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Wednesday, May 21 2014 11:08 PM

City Council votes to sue high-speed rail agency to stop train construction

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Nineteen months after authorizing a lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the Bakersfield City Council reaffirmed that plan late Wednesday, authorizing the City Attorney to sue to stop the multibillion-dollar bullet train.

“The City Council reaffirmed its directive of 2012 and authorized the City Attorney to file a (California Environmental Quality Act) lawsuit in connection with the EIR/EIS on the Fresno-to-Bakersfield alignment certified recently by the high-speed rail authority,” City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The council’s vote, Gennaro said, was 6-1 to sue.

At issue are the Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which the CHSRA board approved unanimously May 7.

The board also approved a resolution saying bullet train construction will stop at 7th Standard Road for now due to lack of funding, and guaranteeing Bakersfield 60 days’ notice before it approves construction south.

City Manager Alan Tandy said the EIR and EIS were greatly lacking, and reemphasized the CHSRA’s lack of responsiveness to Bakersfield.

“The document was deficient on its face. A terribly prepared, horribly prepared document,” Tandy said, noting that he believes the rail agency will have to restart the environmental process and do a new EIR and EIS south of 7th Standard Road through Bakersfield — with a new alignment.

The train’s current alignment would cut through significant city and private properties including McMurtrey Aquatic Center, the city’s Municipal Services Corporation Yard, Bakersfield High School, Bethel Christian School and Mill Creek.

“At this point, we know the route they’ve selected is not acceptable to us whether they can tweak it or need to move it four miles or what,” Tandy said.

He indicated negotiation still might not be out of the question.

“We hope that the gesture of delaying construction, or not authorizing construction is an invitation to actually deal with us on those issues that are important,” Tandy said. “By filing the litigation, we protect ourselves. If you don’t file, after 30 days you can’t file.”

In 1999, then-Mayor Bob Price testified in favor of a downtown Bakersfield alignment before the CHSRA board, but Tandy said the city’s subsequent change of heart shouldn’t affect its ability to win a CEQA lawsuit.

“I don’t think so. At the point in time we did that, they weren’t funded and it was kind of a phantom,” Tandy said.

Also in closed session, the council voted unanimously to authorize legal action against five Bakersfield medical marijuana dispensaries if they fail to abide by cease-and-desist letters.

During the regular portion of its meeting, the council heard about the proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year budget of more than $621.6 million.

The Bakersfield police and fire chiefs advocated for replacing two aging fire engines and 47 police vehicles and hiring five additional officers, and the council was mostly warm and receptive.

Costs were $1.1 million for the fire engines and hydraulic rescue tools, and $685,696 per year to hire two detectives and three senior police officers.

In other business, the council unanimously approved spending up to $385,000 to pump water from the Kern County Water Agency but called for a straightforward presentation on the city’s water supplies, and the possibility of an ordinance dealing with the drought.

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