Community Voices

Thursday, Jun 05 2014 11:00 PM

KATHLEEN ELLIS FAULKNER: Let history be our guide on rail project

By The Bakersfield Californian

What has made this country great is its nonstop progress. We moved from horse and buggy from my father's birth to the Space Age in a very short period of time. What if his parents and the people of his times had said, "We are happy with things the way they are. We don't want to spend the money for roads. A horse and buggy are just fine. Railways and highways only take people's property, and airplanes are just a fantasy; and no one in their right mind would travel anywhere in them. Everybody has a horse and buggy and we are comfortable with this means of travel. No one would want to ride in one of those stupid contraptions such as automobile and trains. They are too expensive anyway"?

Well, those machines built an economy and created and connected communities. Imagine what it would be like to ride a stage coach from San Francisco to Los Angeles or carry goods in wagons. The roads and highways are now packed with cars and trucks. We cannot build enough roads fast enough or keep them in constant repair. The rail system carries hundreds of passengers and loads without each of them in one single car or truck congesting the air unnecessarily. High-speed rail is the fastest way for our community to proper and grow.

So where do things stand now? Bakersfield has made numerous blunders and U-turns on the high-speed rail project over the past 15 years. Now we are about to make another, quite possibly catastrophic one. But before we get too caught up in blaming each other, let's remember when things started to go wrong and take responsibility for our own errors.

In 1999, before partisan politics and administrative incompetence got in the way, our city officials wanted to have the HSR station located downtown. It was a fantastic idea whose moment had finally arrived.

Unfortunately, they failed to consider this new project in their future planning. For example, there were no new projects envisioned near the Amtrak station. Obviously, these would have been (and would still be) great attractants for new dense urban development, accessibility to government and public services, as well as uniform growth patterns.

Throughout history, cities have flourished or floundered based on their proximity to transportation arteries. Where the rails go, the business goes. Those communities that incorporated major highways and railroads enjoyed prosperity. Those that rejected such progress shriveled up and died. We have a perfect example right here.

Once upon a time, the railroad station, Southern Pacific station was in the town of Sumner. It had a thriving business district. Bakersfield also had its own Santa Fe station. The station in Sumner (now called East Bakersfield) closed; its business district collapsed and surrounding areas became blighted. If we let the high-speed rail station go elsewhere, and unless we make the right choice now, this second scenario will most likely be repeated here.

Bakersfield has progressed over the past decade. We can thank such organizations as the Downtown Business Association. Recently, their efforts have increased by instituting the new nonprofit organization, Downtown Bakersfield Development Corporation (DBDC). However, any efforts for greater revitalization are doomed if the city center is bypassed by the high-speed rail, possibly moving out to 7th Standard Road or Tejon Ranch.

It is true that the HSR project is mired in misinformation and mismanagement. Nevertheless, opponents have lost sight of the goal: building a state-of-the-art transportation system that creates jobs, improves our economy and mitigates air pollution. To make matters worse, city officials are threatening to renege on their original agreement at the worst possible time, causing an expensive and useless delay by bringing a frivolous lawsuit.

It's time to stop the nonsense. Moving forward with the current recommended route is in everyone's best interests, including those few buildings adversely affected by this project. Let's not permit short-sightedness to distract us from our long-term benefits. Fresno and Palmdale are chomping at the bit.

We are talking about the future just like our forbearers were asked to do. Thank goodness they decided to give the iron machines, horseless buggies and flying machines a run for the money.

Kathleen Ellis Faulkner is a Bakersfield attorney. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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