Local News

Monday, Nov 26 2012 10:17 PM

Group vows to fight highway through neighborhood

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Trishia Duer raises her hand to address residents of Bakersfield's Westpark neighborhood during a concerned citizens meeting held at the First Assembly of God church on Monday night. Trishia has lived in her home for 25 years and is concerned about the impact of the proposed Alternative B route through her neighborhood.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Concerned Westpark neighborhood residents examine a detailed map of the proposed Alternate B route through Bakersfield during a meeting held in November 2012 at the First Assembly of God church to address the proposed Centennial Corridor construction.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    A majority of the Westpark neighborhood residents present at the First Assembly of God church vote to legally fight the proposed Alternate B route through their area of Bakersfield.

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BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

A large group of residents decided Monday night that they will fight the building of the Centennial Corridor freeway through their Westpark neighborhood.

The community meeting organized by the Westpark Home Owners Association at the First Assembly of God church drew more than 250 people, so many that the meeting was moved from a room off the sanctuary to the sanctuary itself.

After discussing several possible responses to Caltrans' recent recommendation to build the freeway through Westpark, they overwhelmingly agreed to fight that choice through legal means.

The California Department of Transportation announced on Nov. 15 that it was recommending Alternative B as the preferred route to link Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway and eventually to Interstate 5. Alternative B would take down 207 homes, 15 multi-family residential buildings and 36 commercial structures, according to Caltrans.

"I really think our only fight is legal," said Amy Richardson, co-chair of the home owners association. Pushing Caltrans to consider an alternate route isn't likely to be successful, she said.

"It's too late. They've already decided" on Alternative B, Richardson said. "They've already done the studies. They've already done the routes."

Brian Self, one of the organizers for the meeting, said residents in other California cities have effectively opposed Caltrans' highway projects.

"It can be done," Self said.

He added that the home owners association had consulted with attorneys who successfully fought Caltrans' projects. A legal defense would cost $100,000 to $300,000, including hiring experts to rebut Caltrans' environmental document once the agency releases it.

"It's never done until it's done ... and bulldozers are turning the earth," Self said.

When the huge group voted on which course to take, nearly everyone in the sanctuary raised their hands in favor of fighting the project legally.

That would involve raising voluntary contributions from residents for a legal defense.

"There's a large number of people who are willing to do that. ... That is a small amount of insurance to save your neighborhood," said David Boyd, who said his family has a home in the Westpark neighborhood.

Richardson asked those gathered to communicate the group's decision to their neighbors.

"This is not the entire neighborhood. This is only a representation of the neighborhood," she said. "That means that we have to somehow go out and convince the people that didn't come to join us."

Caltrans has planned an open-house meeting 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Kern County Administrative Building, 1115 Truxtun Ave. Residents at Monday's meeting plan to attend in force to show their opposition.

The Centennial Corridor is the largest and most expensive of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects. Caltrans estimates the total cost for the project at $570 million, most of which will come from a federal earmark, but which also will require substantial local funding.

The agency said it is recommending Alternative B because two other routes, Alternative A farther west and Alternative C farther east and mainly aligning with Highway 99, would directly affect parks or historic properties.

Caltrans' preference for Alternative B effectively took the other two routes off the table. What remains is for the agency to prepare and distribute an environmental report outlining the project and its impacts, gather public comment and make a final decision. In April 2013, Caltrans plans to release the draft environmental document. A final environmental document, effectively Caltrans' final decision on the project, is expected in early 2014, Caltrans staff said. Construction likely wouldn't start until at least the summer of 2015.

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