BAKERSFIELD -- A legal battle rages on in the city of Bakersfield, California, regarding the 24th Street widening project that will add two additional lanes to a four-lane street running through the historic area of Westchester.

This project is designed to reduce traffic in the area, but the city is facing strong opposition from those that say the city’s traffic predictions are not true. Vanessa Vangle is a founding member and spokesperson for the “Citizens Against 24th Street Widening Project.” 

"It’s unnecessary to widen it, and even if they did spend the $70 to $80 million that this project would cost, it would only improve the flow of traffic, by approximately one minute and that is at peak rush hour," Vangle told the Northern California Record.

Former Congressman Bill Thomas was able to acquire $630 million earmarked for transportation/road projects before he left office, said Vangle. Jacquie Sullivan, councilmember of Ward 6, is a strong supporter of the 24th Street Widening Project. Sullivan believes the Bakersfield City Council has a responsibility to prepare for the future growth of the city and the 24th Street entrance corridor, the gateway to Bakersfield, is a top priority.

More than 20 homes in the Westchester Historic District will have to be demolished so this project can be completed, said Vangle. The city offered to buy the homes at more than the appraised value and 21 homeowners accepted the offer while two still remain, according to Vangle. 

“The city of Bakersfield was very fair to the people that needed to be relocated. We’ve had no complaints and they were given top value, top service, and top priority,” Sullivan told the Northern California Record.

Terry Maxwell, former councilmember of Ward Two in the Westchester area, was an ally of Vangle and was vehemently against the widening project, according to both Vangle and Sullivan. He was the only dissenting vote on the seven-member city council and he lost his re-election bid to Andre Gonzales, who Sullivan says is a supporter of the widening project.

Vangle said she and her group are not against the entire project. 

“There are four segments involved in the widening project. Segment three is the stretch of road that runs through the historical neighborhood. Our group is not opposed to segments one, two and four, just segment three that will disfigure and potentially destroy the historic neighborhood,” said Vangle.

Vangle and other members of the community have filed a lawsuit against the city. Even though Vangle’s group recently scored a legal victory in a California Appeals Court that issued a temporary stay on the widening project, meaning construction could be at a standstill for at least another year, according to Kern Golden Empire, Sullivan said the project will move forward. 

“There’s no way they are going to prevail. The elected body has been committed to this project from the very beginning. It’s an excellent project. Let’s continue, let’s get it finished, let’s stop the delays and get back on track and get the entrance to our city finished,” said Sullivan. 

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