Bakersfield High Was Never At Risk – But That Didn’t Stop HSR Critics
The big HSR news in California this week was the decision of the Bakersfield planning department to rescind its recommendation of the “Blue Line” option for HSR, even though it had a lesser impact on the community than the “Red Line,” due to overblown concerns about the impact on Bakersfield High School.
Hundreds of current and former Bakersfield High School students overflowed City Council chambers Wednesday night to voice their opposition to a proposed High-Speed Rail line that some believe would have meant the destruction of the historic downtown campus.
They got what what they came for — before the meeting even began.
Hours before the Bakersfield City Council was expected to consider a recommendation that could have routed a High-Speed Rail platform right through the north end of 117-year-old campus, the city planning department pulled its recommendation supporting the much-criticized “blue line.”
Bakersfield High alumni and students were up in arms over the proposed Blue Line, because it would have had some impacts on their campus.
Students Community members started a Facebook group to “Save Bakersfield High School, and there was a lot of discussion and claims that the Blue Line option would “destroy” the campus.
In fact, as we found when we first discussed this last month, the Blue Line would have taken out one building on campus. That’s it. The building could have been moved to another location on the campus. Here’s a map indicating the situation, taken from this CHSRA rendering:
One building would have been impacted. Not the whole campus. But comments from school officials fanned the flames into something much bigger, according to the Facebook group:
Right now, Bakersfield High School is in danger as the routes for the California High Speed Rail system are being plotted. At the very least, one of the routes would require the removal of the IT building, and the route runs so near Harvey Auditorium that the Kern High School District board members have mentioned moving BHS to a new site to “mitigate damages.”
Really? Moving BHS entirely? That is unwarranted based on the route choices. KHSD board members seem to have been making irresponsible speculation here.
But what’s really behind this outpouring of concern is a sense that any change to BHS will undermine the school’s history and people’s memories of BHS. Seriously. They are willing to accept another option, the Red Line, that might require taking of houses simply to preserve memories. Here’s an example from the discussion forums on the Save BHS Facebook group:
I am a resident in Bakersfield, CA and though I believe the high-speed rail is a brilliant idea and look forward to the future with it, I am concerned about the routes in which your board is proposing. I am a graduate of Bakersfield High School (the school that will be effected if the blue line should be chosen). Do you know what will happen if you choose that course? Generations of families that have matriculated through that school will lose their precious memories and future generations of those families will no longer get the opportunity to walk the same halls as those before them. BHS is the OLDEST school in Kern County, yet your board has no qualms about tearing down the oldest building on campus for innovation?
This is ridiculous. People will “lose their precious memories” if a building is torn down or moved? Are you kidding me? That’s not a serious or defensible position. One’s memories exist as long as you have them. I have plenty of memories of things that no longer exist, yet the memories remain strong.
Further, schools undergo major changes all the time. My high school, Tustin High School in Orange County, was originally built in 1921. It was demolished in the 1960s because it wasn’t seismically sound and totally rebuilt in a completely different plan. Since I left in 1997 the school has undergone further significant renovation that makes the campus look different from when I was there.
As far as current students are concerned, some of their opposition to the Blue Line is driven by their own research into the school’s history, and their desire to preserve it for future generations.
As a historian myself, I can’t fault students for that stance. At the same time, I think they misunderstand how history works.
History – the study of history in particular – is the study of change. Historians do not look at things that have stayed the same, they look at things that have changed and WHY they have changed. That concept is hard for people to understand at first, because the equate “history” with “antiquarianism.” But history is in fact the study of change, because history is full of change.
Bakersfield in 2010 doesn’t look or act the way it did in 1960, or in 1930, or in 1880. Those changes happened, but they were not inevitable. Historians seek to understand why change happened.
And good historians therefore understand that change will continue to happen here in the present day. More importantly, historians also understand that it is futile, and often damaging, to try and prevent change from occurring.
When it comes to historical preservation, we need to strike a balance between preserving things that we find valuable and not letting the “dead hand of the past” stop us from doing things in the present day that are necessary to our quality of life and prosperity here and now. We are only able to live the lives we do because previous generations did NOT let historical preservation concerns stop them from building the power lines, aqueducts, freeways, and housing that we now have today. (Whether or not you think the way we did those things was sound, they are the key elements of the lives we live today.)
One Bakersfield resident understands this, writing in the Bakersfield Californian yesterday:
In this day and age, it’s very easy to criticize, and honestly, the majority of time the criticism is earned. But this approach fails to capture the scope of the project and its potential rewards. You can’t make an omelet unless you are willing to break some eggs, and it is without question that high-speed rail is a very fancy omelet….
It’s time America wakes up to our reliance on very old technology and face facts. Staying with the old and familiar will cost us our future. Our industrial leadership will continue to decline as naysayers and Chicken Littles, along with some popular politicians, increasingly see progress and progressive agendas as un-American.
Japan began the high-speed train revolution nearly 50 years ago and Europe 40 years ago. Paris and London were linked by high-speed rail in 1994. If America is going to remain competitive — and there is serious doubt we can — it will be with projects like California high-speed rail, which will put our industrial know-how and ability back in the running.
But from what I hear and read, the inclination is to not only do nothing, but move backward. It’s complaining about taxes and illegals while the real prize is lost. Doing nothing will result in the loss of industrial leadership, with even more high-tech jobs going to Asia and Europe.
Can we really afford to become a second- or even third-rate nation? Are we ready to sink to a lower standard of living because we just do not have the vision to invest in tomorrow? Education is no different!
Do we want a better reality tomorrow? Reading the comments printed in The Californian, it’s pretty clear we don’t. The generalization I reach is that the majority is more concerned about protecting its small piece of the pie. Period. No new taxes. Lower educational standards, larger classrooms and closed libraries and public parks is the agenda for Kern County.
I don’t get the impression all the concern about the HSR route in Bakersfield is about an unwillingness to spend money. But we are seeing a repeat of the same unwillingness to part with the status quo. It would be one thing if BHS were going to indeed be demolished. But it’s not. BHS and the Bakersfield community as a whole are going to have to adapt to the needs of the 21st century. There are ways they can do so that don’t require total abandonment of the past. But neither is the past, and “memories,” so important that we have to stop all innovation and preparation for the future.
UPDATE: I’m very glad to see some of the Bakersfield activists posting in the comments. They seem supportive of HSR as a concept, which is welcome. We may have to agree to disagree on the question of whether BHS will be negatively impacted if the IT building is moved or rebuilt elsewhere on the campus, but it is a good discussion. One BHS alum, Chris L, made what I thought was a truly excellent comment. He proposed the following, which I want to endorse:
Robert, if I were the CAHSR, I’d approach Kern Schools to find out what their criteria are for a “viable comprehensive campus” and make changes to guarantee that the whole of BHS, the IT building notwithstanding, is not lost to your blue line.
This would be a very good idea. I hope the CHSRA has already been doing this. If not, they need to get on it right away.
UPDATE 2: I should be clear here – I’m NOT saying the Blue line is the only option. If Bakersfield really doesn’t want it, I’m not going to say people there have to accept it. I just disagree with the reasons being given for opposing it.