BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Revisions to a draft environmental review of high-speed rail plans between Fresno and Bakersfield did little to mollify local critics Tuesday, even as some observers pointed to improvements.
Project opponents reiterated complaints that different alignment alternatives, including a new "hybrid" version drawn up to appease locals, threaten housing, businesses and public property in downtown Bakersfield.
Three public hearings have been scheduled to gather comments on the high-speed rail segment proposed between Fresno and Bakersfield:
* 3 to 8 p.m. Aug. 27
Beale Memorial Library
701 Truxtun Ave., Bakersfield
* 3 to 8 p.m. Aug. 28
Hanford Fraternal Hall
1015 N. 10th Ave., Hanford
* 3 to 8 p.m. Aug. 29
Fresno Convention Center, Exhibit Hall III
848 M St., Fresno
In addition, four informational workshops have been scheduled to provide information about the segment's revised environmental review:
* 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 13
Rosedale Middle School, Multipurpose Room
12463 Rosedale Highway, Bakersfield
* 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 14
16694 Wasco Ave., Wasco
* 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 15
Veterans Memorial Hall
1000 Van Dorsten Ave., Corcoran
* 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 16
The Grand 1401, Ballroom
1401 Fulton St., Fresno
A copy of the report is available online at www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/revised-draft-eir-f-b.aspx. Comments can be submitted on that website.
Comments can also be sent by regular mail to: Fresno to Bakersfield Revised Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS Comment, California High Speed Rail Authority, 770 L St., Suite 800, Sacramento, CA 95814.
Comments can be sent via email to Fresno_Bakersfield@hsr.ca.gov with the subject line: Revised Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS Comment.
"The only responsible remedy is to plan rail alignment and station locations outside our metropolitan community," Save Bakersfield Committee Chairman Jeff Taylor wrote in an email.
The full scope of changes contained in the draft revision released Monday remained to be understood locally, as several people contacted for comment emphasized that they had not had time to read the lengthy document in full.
Complicating efforts to gauge the project's full local impact are a variety of route alternatives constituting 72 possible combinations, each of which poses unique impacts.
Some observers pointed to helpful changes to the document, such as the addition of a list of endangered properties, new details on how the project would impact east Bakersfield, a public comment period extended from 45 days to 60 and more discussion of how various impacts would be mitigated.
Project supporter Howard Silver, long an advocate of public transportation, said he was even encouraged by expectations that the initial construction segment would stop short of Bakersfield.
"That in itself, this delay -- things could change and we could possibly come up with a consensus solution," he said.
The project officially estimated to cost some $68 billion passed a major milestone this month when the state Legislature voted to release $2.6 billion in state bond money to be coupled with about $3.2 billion from federal sources.
The project's future is still far from certain. Lawsuits loom, Republicans in Sacramento and Washington have vowed to oppose it at every turn and, perhaps most important, no money has been identified to build tracks beyond the initial, Merced to Bakersfield segment scheduled to begin construction this year or next.
If built as envisioned, the project would shuttle passengers between Anaheim and San Francisco at speeds of up to 220 mph by 2035, lowering overall transportation emissions and reducing the need for spending on highway and airport expansions. Later phases are planned to connect San Diego and Sacramento.
Most opposition in the Central Valley has focused on the project's impact on farmland. But in Bakersfield, critics including City Manager Alan Tandy say it would unnecessarily level city property, homes, places of employment and, potentially, sections of Bakersfield High School and Mercy Hospitals of Bakersfield's Truxtun Avenue campus.
Partly in response to these criticisms, project officials withdrew the previous draft review issued in August. They say the new draft takes into account comments from 188 individuals and organizations, as well as 33 agencies.
Opponents said the revisions appear to fall short of addressing their concerns.
Tandy, whose objections have centered on the project's proposed use of city property, criticized project officials for issuing the revised document without first resuming discussions with the city.
But he expressed a measure of satisfaction that the new draft looks at potential project impacts as far east as Oswell Street. The earlier version stopped short of Oswell, prompting concerns that the project's course would be decided without a full accounting of what that would mean to east Bakersfield.
"That would be better, if it's correct," he said.
Responding to concerns
A project spokeswoman said officials were not available for comment Tuesday. But in a press release Monday afternoon, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales stated that the new draft testifies to their commitment to an open and transparent process, and that it responds to many concerns expressed initially by people in the Central Valley.
"We know we haven't addressed all issues to everyone's satisfaction but this part of the process is designed to get the public's input to continue to improve this document going forward," he stated in the release.
Several local groups and individuals that have commented publicly on the project, including state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and the Kern Council of Governments, were not available for comment Tuesday.
Others declined to weigh in without having reviewed the document completely.
Kern County administrative analyst Teresa Hitchcock noted that the new draft review contains an important element missing from the original: a parcel-by-parcel listing of properties that potentially would be affected by the project's various alternatives.
"I think that's a huge improvement in the document itself," she said.
"I think it'll give people a better place to start when they're looking at it."
One of the project's most influential critics, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, kept up the pressure in an emailed statement.
"The California High Speed Rail Authority's revised EIR report doesn't change the fundamental flaws of this project: a lack of private investment, flawed cost estimates and ridership numbers, and reliance on borrowing money we don't have," he stated.