Local News

Wednesday, Feb 13 2013 10:22 PM

Finance chief: City will need to borrow $270 million for highway projects

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

The city of Bakersfield will need to borrow $270 million in coming years for Thomas Roads Improvement Program highway projects, Finance Director Nelson Smith said at Wednesday night's City Council meeting.

Smith gave an overview of funding needs for the projects to expand the city's roadways. A bulk of the funding for these projects, including the most expensive -- the Centennial Corridor -- is to come in the form of already-approved federal funding and some state funding, but the city also has to contribute a large share.

After accounting for about $75 million over four years in city cash flow going to the projects, plus another $58 million expected to come from Kern County and a $4 million contribution expected from the Kern Council of Governments, Bakersfield still needs to come up with $270 million for the projects over the next four fiscal years, Smith said.

Smith laid out two options: issuing bonds or applying for a low-interest government loan, adding that the loan option is better.

That would involve applying for a federal loan for infrastructure projects under a program called the Federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. The loan would have a long-term rate of 3.5 percent, compared to an estimated 4.5 percent rate for bond financing, Smith said. The federal loan, if the city is able to get it, also would have a longer repayment period -- 38 years versus 30 years for bond repayment.

The city would repay the borrowed money through gas tax revenues, development fees and utility surcharges that go to city coffers. That adds up to about $21 million a year currently, according to Smith's presentation.

For the controversial Centennial Corridor project to extend Highway 58 west to Interstate 5, state and federal funding would account for an estimated $385 million and local, city and county funding would account for an estimated $326 million, according to Smith.

The council wasn't required to take any action on Smith's presentation, but several residents took the opportunity to speak against the project.

"Nothing has changed since 2001 to make this a good idea," said Tim Stonelake, a resident in Westpark, the area Caltrans has said is its preferred route for the Centennial Corridor. Stonelake said the City Council and Mayor Harvey Hall took a stand in 2001 against building the freeway through Westpark.

"Westpark residents believed you and made lifestyle financial decisions based on that trust," Stonelake said.

Also Wednesday, the council approved a zone change for a housing development on Rosedale Highway, but not before hearing from residents opposed to the project who said it will greatly add to traffic in the area.

The property is on the north side of Rosedale Highway, just west of Allen Road, and developer Black Ops Real Estate owns it. The proposal is to build multi-family housing and duplexes on the 20-acre property, 192 housing units in all, said Roger McIntosh, principal of McIntosh & Associates, which represented Black Ops Real Estate.

The Bakersfield Planning Commission approved a zone change in December from low density residential to a higher density residential zoning.

More than 80 residents in the area signed a petition submitted to the City Council opposing the development.

The developer is using outdated traffic data, based on estimates done years before the plans arose for the residential development, said Johnathan Geersen, a resident in the area.

"The Allen Road-Rosedale Highway intersection is one of busiest intersections in northwest," Geersen said.

"We simply do not have the infrastructure necessary to accommodate this project and its high-density impacts."

But city staff said the developer is using adequate traffic study data. The council approved the zone change, but not before the developer, through McIntosh, agreed to a few concessions: that the project would be limited to 200 residential units, down from 225 that were approved by the Planning Commission, and that the north side of the project be single-story buildings. The north and east edges of the property abut houses on Pergola Avenue and Van Buren Place.

"That may appease some of the neighbors," McIntosh said of the concessions. "We're trying to be good neighbors as well."

The council also approved an action to accelerate construction of a spray park at Siemon Park in northeast Bakersfield. The original plans to replace the aging 1960s-era pool at the park called for the spray park to be built by this fall.

"When it's 105 (degrees) outside, I'm sure the people of Siemon Park will appreciate it," said Councilman Ken Weir, whose represents that area.

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