Wednesday, Jan 08 2014 06:00 AM

Now & Then: About traffic and Walmart

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Sometime soon, the Walmart project will once again be before the City Council.

You may recall that the Tehachapi Planning Commission has approved the project twice and the Council once (following appeal of the first Planning Commission decision).

A judge sided with Tehachapi First, the local organization that appealed, and said more work was needed to address issues raised in the Environmental Impact Report, including water, noise and traffic.

The city went back to the drawing board on those issues and last month the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to move the project forward again.

And, as might have been expected, that decision was appealed to the Council.

As to water and noise, I have no particular concern. I say that because I don't imagine that Walmart will create a water problem -- it's all of the people who moved here and created the market for Walmart that created that problem. And it's a problem shared with the rest of the state and in that regard probably doesn't make a bit of difference where Walmart is located.

Living near downtown, where even being hard of hearing is no defense from the persistent assault of noise from trains, planes, ambulances, fire engines and more, I have a hard time being concerned about the additional decibels in the commercial district.

But traffic... now, there is a concern.

Before I go further, let me do my best to explain the situation. Basically, the city's latest EIR says pretty much what the first one said -- the project would add to the traffic problem on Tucker Road and Tehachapi Boulevard but the city is powerless to do much about it because that section of Tucker Road is a state highway. So the Planning Commission adopted what is called a "statement of overriding considerations" which basically said the benefits to the city will outweigh the traffic problems that can't be mitigated.

And the city did this in part because there is case law that supports such action in situations like ours where other jurisdictions (state, county) have control over roadways beyond the boundaries that impact what the city can do. Or something like that.

I was giving all of this some thought the last time I drove on Tucker Road and tried to imagine a Walmart and other shopping likely to fill up the empty spaces along what was once a country road.

Yes, like some of you I remember when Tucker was a country lane. The only thing I can remember clearly was that the wonderful Gary family lived at the northwest corner of Tucker and Valley Boulevard and it was well out of town.

I even remember when Valley Boulevard was called Cummings Valley Road and you made your way from town to the hinterlands by heading south on Curry Street, then turned right on Cummings Valley Road and then headed out past the edge of town, past Tucker, etc., etc.

What I thought was this: What a mess Curry would be today if the state hadn't changed the routing of 202 down Tucker. And what a mess we'd have if Red Apple hadn't been put through. Or if Valley Boulevard didn't extend east of Curry.

My guess is that even more changes will be necessary as growth continues in the Tehachapi Valley and adjacent areas.

What I would like to see the City Council do as it considers the Walmart appeal is to go beyond the possibly legal excuse for not addressing what will undoubtedly be a real mess on Tucker Road and talk about the circulation plan for the Tehachapi of tomorrow.

Have you noticed the trains are getting longer, and there are more of them? Have you tried to cross the tracks at Green Street lately and noticed cars backing up to Curry or beyond?

How exactly will things change when the hospital officially moves to Capital Hills?

What is the plan?

There are plenty of people who actually want a Walmart in Tehachapi, but question the location. I respect the fact that Walmart owns the property and wants to develop it. What I question is what will happen next? If the city can't mitigate, and is willing to accept the problem -- is there at least a long-term solution tucked away somewhere in City Hall?

A statement of overriding consideration and reliance on case law to push something through might be legal, but it falls short of addressing the matter.

What I'd like the city to do is really answer the question. Show us the plan. Let people know the challenges and opportunities. That's what I hope the City Council will insist upon. And if the Council doesn't, I hope the court will.

CLAUDIA ELLIOTT is editor of the Tehachapi News. Send email to: celliott@tehachapinews.com or call 823-6360.

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