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Sunday, Oct 07 2012 02:59 PM

Excitement growing as preparations are underway for presidential visit

Related Photos

A train passes behind the National Chavez Center in Keene on Sunday, Oct. 7. Trains don't normally run through the area on Mondays (because it is track maintenance day), but knowledgeable sources have indicated that a train will be parked along the track during the presidential visit on Monday as a security measure. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Shuttles from Yosemite National Park began arriving in Tehachapi early Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7. On Monday, the shuttles will make multiple trips between Tehachapi and Keene to take thousands of visitors to the National Chavez Center where President Barack Obama will announce the establishment of the national monument there. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Workers on Sunday, Oct. 7, prepare the set-up for a stage at the National Chavez Center in Keene where President Barack Obama will visit on Monday. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Workers on Sunday, Oct. 7, prepare the set-up for a stage at the National Chavez Center in Keene where President Barack Obama will visit on Monday. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

One of several stashes of water bottles assembled at the National Chavez Center in Keene on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7. Thousands of visitors are expected for the presidential visit on Oct. 8 and they have been instructed not to bring food or water — it looks as if their needs will be met, however. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Barricades have been installed along the long driveway into the National Chavez Center, pictured here on Sunday, Oct. 7, in advance of the presidential visit on Monday. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

National Park Service vehicles enter the grounds of the National Chavez Center on Sunday, Oct. 7. The park service will administer the new national monument. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

The excitement is mounting as final preparations are underway for the presidential visit to Keene on Monday.

President Barack Obama will be in the small community 10 miles west of Tehachapi to announce the establishment of a Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, the White House announced on Monday, Oct. 1.

Since that time, there has been a flurry of behind the scenes activity involving officials with the United Farm Workers of America, the National Park Service, Kern County, the City of Tehachapi and others.

Thousands of people have been invited to attend the event and shuttle buses that the park services uses in Yosemite began arriving in Tehachapi early on Sunday afternoon, lining up in the Capital Hills area north of Highway 58 at Mill Street.

The open area of the barely developed commercial subdivision will be used as a parking area and staging for the shuttles that Gary Rosenthal of the park service said would make multiple runs between Tehachapi and Keene on Monday morning.

Portable electronic signs stood in a field Sunday afternoon, waiting for deployment as the City of Tehachapi will be helping accommodate all the visitors. The local Explorer Scout police cadet group is said to be helping with the parking on Monday.

Travelers on Highway 58 through Tehachapi on Monday are advised that there will be traffic and the possibility of intermittent closures and should plan their trips accordingly.

Tehachapi Schools Superintendent Lisa Gilbert said just under 500 students — from every school in the district — will be traveling by school bus to the event on Monday morning.

At La Paz

Meanwhile, at La Paz, officials have been busy preparing for the event. On Sunday afternoon, construction of a stage was underway, with sound technicians preparing the wiring. A large American flag could be seen alongside one of the buildings.

Caterers were setting up and many vehicles from the National Park Service were arriving.

The park service will administer the new national monument, the fourth established by President Obama using the powers of the Antiquities Act of 1906.

No parking will be allowed at the Chavez Center on Monday and Kern County has put out "temporary no parking" signs along the roadway leading from the freeway exit on Highway 58 to the center.

The president is expected to arrive at Meadows Field in Bakersfield at 9:45 a.m. Monday and how he will travel to Keene has not been disclosed. There is a Kern County Fire Station a short distance from the Chavez Center with a helipad. On Saturday morning a helicopter with similar markings to Marine One was seen circling over La Paz Saturday morning. And a high-level member of the Kern County Fire Department was seen driving through the La Paz complex in a convoy that included a battalion chief truck and a department air command truck.

The Keene Cafe, a focal point for the community, will be closed Monday morning, but will open at 1 p.m.

Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez's middle son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, was spotted eating breakfast at the cafe Saturday morning, and seemed to be at ease. The waitresses? They were excited about Monday's event.

Some people have been stopping by the center to see if they can get tickets for Monday's event, but access to tickets has already closed out (it was through an online sign-up at the UFW website earlier in the week).

Those who requested tickets before the cut-off have received instructions by email advising them to arrive in Tehachapi very early in the morning and expect to remain at La Paz until as late as 5 p.m.


"Cesar Chavez gave a voice to poor and disenfranchised workers everywhere," the president said in a statement.

"La Paz was at the center of some of the most significant civil rights moments in our nation's history, and by designating it a national monument, Chavez's legacy will be preserved and shared to inspire generations to come."

The monument, which will be designated under the Antiquities Act, will be established on property in Keene called Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), better known as La Paz.

The property is historically significant due to its links to civil rights icon Chavez and the farm worker movement.

United Farm Workers of America confirmed the visit and thanked Obama and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a news release issued late Monday.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez Arturo Rodriguez said, "Even though Cesar Chavez dedicated his life to the farm workers, his legacy, reflected at La Paz where he spent his last quarter century, transcended farm labor and even Latinos because it became a universal message of hope, empowerment and social justice."

Chavez's widow, Helen F. Chavez, issued a statement expressing her gratitude to the government for "ensuring that La Paz, where Cesar lived and worked his last 22 years and where he asked to be buried, will always be preserved."

The National Park Service released a draft special resource study in 2011 that found five locations in California and Arizona to be of national significance, including the Delano property known as Forty Acres, which was once headquarters for the United Farm Workers; and La Paz, near Keene, where Chavez lived and the current home of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

La Paz is 187 acres all together and includes three acres that house the memorial garden where Cesar Chavez was buried after his death in 1993, as well as his office and his house. The Cesar Chavez Foundation is donating that portion of the property to the federal government for the monument.

Monday afternoon, Salazar called Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez's middle son and the foundation's president, to inform him that Obama would issue the designation. In a phone interview Monday, Paul Chavez said he was pleased because the monument was something the foundation had been talking to the National Park Service about for a number of years.

"That this day has actually come is really meaningful not just because they'll be honoring my father's life and work, but because in these tough times when there is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, there are those who would have you believe Latinos just got here and have contributed nothing to the United States," he said.

"This serves to remind people that we've been here, many of us, for many generations, and we've all contributed to this great country of ours. So this monument begins to tell the true story of farm workers and Latinos in this country."

COURTENAY EDELHART and JAMES BURGER of The Bakersfield Californian and NICK SMIRNOFF contributed to this story.

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