Bakersfield Was Right In 1999
Last week the Bakersfield City Council voted 6-1 to sue the California High Speed Rail Authority over its choice of a downtown station. The irony is that, as the Bakersfield Californian explains, the CHSRA chose a downtown station because that’s what Bakersfield asked for:
On June 30 of that year, the Bakersfield City Council unanimously approved Resolution No. 97-99 “supporting a downtown location for the high-speed rail station.”
On a 7-0 vote, the council challenged the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s recommendation to locate the station about seven miles west of downtown.
Among its 13 whereases, the resolution noted “a station located on the outskirts of town will have a negative impact on the City’s uniform growth patterns … ” — but a downtown station could be easily reached and “have greater accessibility to government and other public service facilities.”…
The next week, then-Mayor Bob Price testified at an CHSRA meeting July 20-21, 1999.
Price told the CHSRA board he believed “downtown locations are key to the success of high-speed rail,” according to meeting minutes.
Price was and remains right. A greenfield station on the edge of town would bring much fewer economic benefits to Bakersfield. They’d lose out on jobs, tax revenue, and income at downtown businesses. Fresno gets it and is moving ahead with their downtown station. Bakersfield should follow suit.
The main reason Bakersfield has changed its mind is because of the disruption that a downtown station – and more to the point, the tracks connecting to it – would bring. But that disruption is not major, and its impacts can be mitigated easily. After all, some of the concerns are not very persuasive:
The train will be elevated during much of its journey through Bakersfield, according to Planning Director Jim Eggert, who pointed out it will have to cross such landmarks as the Westside Parkway on its journey southeast to downtown.
The train’s current alignment will 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.
So? Tracks cross landmarks all the time. All those properties can have the impact mitigated, and the CHSRA has gone out of its way to address community concerns about the effect on Bakersfield High School – where, it’s worth remembering, the tracks will go along the edge of the campus.
From its intensive care units and operating rooms, doctors and nurses at Mercy Hospital downtown could one day be at eye level with bullet train ticketholders, according to CEO Bruce Peters.
“It is elevated at the height of our ICUs and our ORs,” Peters said. “It will be 88 feet from our door. Eighty-eight feet is barely to the — it’s short of the 30-yard line on a football field. Can you imagine a train coming by at over 100 miles per hour, the noise, the vibration?”
You mean like this?
That’s BART running next to Oakland Children’s Hospital. It works just fine. Hospital operations are not negatively impacted.
Unfortunately, some folks have lost sight of the wisdom of their decision in 1999:
Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan was on the council in 1999 and is its only member to have voted both times.
She said 15 years ago, the bullet train was just a concept, one the council thought could help a struggling downtown.
Tandy agreed in a recent interview and said in 1999 the train wasn’t funded and “was kind of a phantom.”
With downtown reviving, Sullivan said, the council has changed its mind.
“We don’t need it and now we don’t want it,” she said. “Things have changed and now we need to protect our downtown.”
Here’s the problem: Bakersfield’s downtown is still vulnerable. Its revival will falter if it remains dependent on people driving there from all over the place. As downtown HSR stations around the world prove, Bakersfield’s downtown will see a huge boost from having a station of its own. It will attract businesses and housing developers. New workers and new residents will support existing and future businesses. Land values will rise. And those who live and work downtown will remain deeply invested in making sure that it remains a great neighborhood. All of that is far less likely without a downtown station.
And that’s something the Downtown Bakersfield Association understands:
Another local agency, Bakersfield’s Downtown Business Association, supports having a bullet train station downtown — but Chairman Kevin Bartl said it’s a difficult choice.
“In a perfect world, the downtown would be your ideal location, but that being said there’s already structures here. There’s not vast tracts of open land,” Bartl said. “We would like that seriously to be downtown, but we think there has to be a plan to make up for the work that’s going to be done and what it’s going to take out.”
His suggestion is fair, there does indeed need to be a plan for those things. I’m sure the CHSRA is interested in creating such a plan. Bakersfield should continue working with them to get it done and make their downtown thrive for the rest of the century, rather than wasting taxpayer money on a lawsuit.