High-speed Rail

Monday, Mar 05 2012 06:11 PM

Kern COG reconsiders support for high-speed rail

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The Kern Council of Governments is rethinking its support for California's high-speed rail project. But instead of putting it to a vote next week as scheduled, its board of directors may wait for new information expected out next month.

Kern COG has supported the project through a series of five board resolutions dating as far back as 2001. Last year, the council submitted a list of suggested changes to the project's draft environmental review and its business plan.

Meanwhile, some of the council's member governments -- the cities of Bakersfield and Wasco, as well as Kern County -- have voted to oppose the project as currently proposed. They cite the disruption that construction would entail, and the $98 billion project's uncertain funding.

At the Kern COG board's Jan. 19 meeting, members of a local group opposed to the project, the Save Bakersfield Committee, asked council directors to consider a resolution reversing the council's support. Board member Harold Hanson, a Bakersfield city councilman, asked staff to bring forward such a resolution.

Staff presented three possible resolutions at the board's Feb. 16 meeting: oppose the project as currently proposed, defer taking a formal position until the release of a revised draft environmental review, or adopt a resolution continuing Kern COG's support.

The board was planning to vote on the matter at its March 15 meeting. But on Monday, Kern COG's interim executive director, Rob Ball, asked Save Bakersfield members if they were agreeable to putting off the vote until May.

Waiting until then would allow Kern COG to review the final draft of the project's business plan, Ball said. That way the board could see whether its suggestions have been taken into account, he added.

"That would be important information for us to learn in terms of how we would decide if we would take a resolution that might change our past stance," he said.

Save Bakersfield Committee member Dr. Girish Patel said the delay was fine.

"We have no problem," he said. "We are reasonable here."

The project is planned to connect San Francisco and Anaheim with trains traveling up to 220 mph by 2035. Construction is proposed to begin early next year in the Central Valley.

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