High Speed Rail Update
On Feb. 7, the Board of Supervisors had a presentation from the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) on its controversial project. The board invited the CHSRA to speak to us so that we may decide whether or not Kern County will support or oppose this project, one that has seen its costs escalate from $33 billion in 2008, to approximately $100 billion just last year. Other local governments have weighed in on this project, with the City of Bakersfield, and the counties of Kings and Madera in opposition.
After hearing from the CHSRA, and from many members of the public, the majority of whom were opposed to the project, I voted to oppose the high speed rail project in its current form, as did two of my colleagues, resulting in a 3-2 vote in opposition to the project. The CHSRA told the board that its new (and third) business plan will be released within a month. I am not confident that their "new" business plan will make this project any more viable or affordable, however, I am willing to listen to their proposal again.
I find it interesting that the CHSRA is dependent on a third of its funding from the state, a third from the federal government, and a third from private investors. So far, no private investors have stepped up with even a pledge. However, there are millions of private sector dollars being pumped into the burgeoning space industry at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. I believe the private sector knows well where to invest its money -- and where not -- and that is telling to me about the future and viability of the high speed rail project.
Cummings Valley Solar Project
In late January the county received word that Recurrent Energy would not appeal the Planning Commission's denial of its Tehachapi 1 and 2 solar projects to the Board of Supervisors. I was pleased with Recurrent's decision. It is my opinion that while renewable energy provides a benefit to Kern County, this specific project was not properly sited.
I heard from several constituents who were concerned about the loss of prime agricultural land, and that this project was not in keeping with the rural character of Cummings Valley. I agree with these sentiments, as the Cummings Valley has historically been a pristine resource for agriculture. This has recently been reinforced by a new generation of organic farms and wineries. These new operations contribute to the Cummings Valley's burgeoning "agritourism" industry that attracts visitors from all over California. I am glad Recurrent Energy saw fit to withdraw its projects, because they were not compatible with these new and traditional land uses.
Additionally, the Tehachapi Solar project was not in accordance with the Greater Tehachapi Area Specific Plan (GTASP) that states, "there is a community interest in the preservation of agricultural land uses within the Greater Tehachapi Area. Future growth and development will likely continue to create pressure to convert agricultural lands to urban and industrial use."
There were some proponents of the projects who believed the solar project would result in a substantial decrease in water use versus water-intensive sod farming, and that this would help ameriorate the depletion of the groundwater basin of the Cummings Valley.
The effects of this shift from agricultural to industrial use would have been negligible in the long run. I spoke with John Martin, General Manager of the Tehachapi Cummings County Water District (TCCWD), and he believes the best way to improve the water situation in the Cummings Valley is to encourage all farmers in the valley to voluntarily use half their water from imported water from the State Water Project, and half from the groundwater basin. Mr. Martin also informed me that groundwater banking is a tool the TCCWD uses, and went on to say that agriculture is a good partner for recharge of the water basin, because 15 percent of all applied agricultural water eventually percolates back into the basin for reuse.
This reinforces the GTASP's emphasis on maintaining agriculture in the Cummings Valley by demonstrating just how integral farming is to the ecology of the valley's water cycle. I look forward to working with Mr. Martin and the TCCWD, along with other entities, to find a long-term, regional answer to the Cummings Valley's water issues, instead of approaching the problem by replacing prime agricultural land with industrial uses to conserve this resource.
On Feb. 14, the county's Chief Administrator's Office gave a mid-year report on the budget, and the proposed budget for 2012-13. The good news is that, for the current budget year, the county is benefiting from higher than anticipated property, sales, and use taxes. Discretionary revenue is up $16 million, and $6 million of that is due to one-time wind energy sales tax revenue.
While this is all positive news, the current year budget has been impacted by state trigger cuts. Those cuts cost the Aging and Adult Department $56,000, library $66, 000 and the District Attorney $250,000.
In addition, there are other issues that are expected to have negative impacts on the current year budget, and counties have been notified that the state is having cash flow issues again this fiscal year.
ZACK SCRIVNER of Tehachapi represents the Second District on the Kern County Board of Supervisors and was recently named chairman of the board.