Bullet train threatens Central Valley
October 24, 2011
The planners behind the controversial California bullet train seem to be complicating matters with their new route—right through historic Bakersfield High School, where rail opponent Cong. Kevin McCarthy just happens to have two children enrolled. [LATimes]
The train’s proposed routes are taking aim at the campus, first opened in 1893, potentially putting a bulls-eye on the Industrial Arts Building, where future engineers, ceramic artists, auto mechanics, fabric designers and wood-workers take classes. Even though freight trains already lumber not far from the campus, these elevated trains could rocket by on a viaduct at up to 220 mph every five minutes, eye level with the school library and deafening the stately outdoor commons where students congregate between classes.
The California High Speed Rail Authority, the agency trying to build the bullet train, couldn’t have found a more politically sensitive target. The school is where House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), one of the project’s staunchest opponents in Congress, sends his children. McCarthy also currently represents much of northern San Luis Obispo County.
Critics say such blunders are routine for the rail authority. Across the length of the Central Valley, the bullet train as drawn would destroy churches, schools, private homes, shelters for low-income people, animal processing plants, warehouses, banks, medical offices, auto parts stores, factories, farm fields, mobile home parks, apartment buildings and much else as it cuts through the richest agricultural belt in the nation and through some of the most depressed cities in California.
The potential economic, cultural and political damage may be an omen. The Central Valley, where construction could start next year, is expected to be the politically easiest and lowest-cost segment of the system, designed to move millions of passengers between Southern California and the Bay Area.
For years the train’s path was somewhat vague, but in August the authority released 70,000 pages of environmental impact reports that detail potential routes through the Central Valley.
Authority officials say they have made every effort to work with people who could be displaced in order to minimize its effects. Rail authority chairman Tom Umberg says a high-speed rail will improve the quality of life in California, not reduce it. Proponents say the benefits are overwhelmingly positive.
Almost every city and county along the proposed route loses something, but none more than Bakersfield. More than 228 homes and more than a half dozen churches would be taken, many of them in low-income minority communities on the city’s east side. The rail authority’s plans have both homeowners and government agencies confused.
In formal comments submitted this month to the authority, Bakersfield officials called the plans “ambiguous and unstable.” What’s more, the authority was being “clearly unreasonable” in initially allowing only two months for the city to review the plans.