BY GREGORY D. BYNUM
BAKERSFIELD, CA -- It's time for Bakersfield to speak up on high-speed rail -- but we can't let the recent City Council meeting be the last word.
The meeting proved what anyone who knows Bakersfield already understands -- our pride in our history and our institutions is real. We're not a community that tosses things aside without a thought. We respect our elders and honor our past. But we've also got an obligation to plan for our future.
The future of California includes high-speed rail. Voters approved it, and the state has won the largest share of federal funding of any project in the country. And Bakersfield can't afford to let the opportunity it represents pass us by.
Frankly, we all should be paying attention to this project. Running 500 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it will be the single biggest public works project ever undertaken. It's also subject to an intense environmental review, public scrutiny and lots of questions.
That's a good thing. Nothing of this scale can be built without affecting the communities it serves, and we all need to be part of the discussion about community concerns and how to best address them.
But we also need to see the big picture: High-speed rail represents a safe, convenient and affordable way to travel, a proven way to reduce air pollution, and a huge boost to our economy at a time we need it most.
The unemployment rate in Kern County stands at 16.5 percent -- and that doesn't count the people who've stopped looking, or the folks who are working part-time, but need full-time jobs to support their families.
Bakersfield needs jobs now. So the sooner we get moving on high-speed rail, the better.
The project will create at least 100,000 construction jobs each year while the high-speed rail line is built -- and as many as 450,000 permanent new jobs sparked by the growth it will bring.
And we're not just talking about jobs for conductors and train engineers. High-speed rail means more people staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants and shopping in our stores. Kern County stands to gain its share of these jobs, plus as many as 1,500 more if our region is chosen for the site of the project's heavy-maintenance facility.
And high-speed rail is a good fit for Bakersfield's economic future. Our economy is already becoming more diversified as we become a center for green energy. That's why so many companies are gobbling up land for wind and solar usage, and applications for renewable energy projects are on the rise.
Should we ignore the impacts on properties near the two proposed alignments in a rush to benefit from high-speed rail? Of course not. Let's consider them carefully -- and continue to have the kind of open discussion the state's high-speed rail officials have fostered so far to address them.
That's how we'll arrive at the best possible solution -- for Bakersfield and for the state as a whole. So far, the process has worked. State officials even deferred to local leaders when they focused their plans on a downtown station rather than one near the airport.
That choice has consequences. You can't have a downtown station without tracks, and those tracks have to go somewhere. Building them well above ground, as state officials have proposed, would minimize the impact on property owners.
There is still a lot of work to do, including more discussions with residents, business owners and community leaders, and a close and careful look at reasonable alternatives.
The state's High-Speed Rail Authority has pledged to do its part, convening more public meetings and working with local planners, engineers and other officials.
So let's do our part as well, by speaking up on high-speed rail -- and preserving our past while we plan for our future.
Greg Bynum, a lifelong Bakersfield resident, is owner of Gregory D. Bynum and Associates Inc., a full-service real estate development, management, brokerage and appraisal/analysis firm.
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