‘Hearing’ Tone Deaf To Mountain’s Goals

  • Top, the Planning Commission hearing on Frazier Park Estates: At 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. Michael Callagy of Cornerstone Engineering and Frank Arciero, Jr., developer of Frazier Park Estates, at left (in yellow shirts), Barry Zoeller of Tejon Ranch at top left, taking notes (striped shirt) and yawning spectator as Darren Hager, president of Lebec County Water District Board, tells commissioners his consultants report inadequate water in the aquifer to service existing residents plus residents of 661 new homes (and condos) if there is a seven-year drought. Bottom: Kern County Planning Commissioners (right) Ron Sprague (Chair), Peter Belluomini and Jeff Flores. CommissionerChris Babcock was absent.

    Top, the Planning Commission hearing on Frazier Park Estates: At 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. Michael Callagy of Cornerstone Engineering and Frank Arciero, Jr., developer of Frazier Park Estates, at left (in yellow shirts), Barry Zoeller of Tejon Ranch at top left, taking notes (striped shirt) and yawning spectator as Darren Hager, president of Lebec County Water District Board, tells commissioners his consultants report inadequate water in the aquifer to service existing residents plus residents of 661 new homes (and condos) if there is a seven-year drought. Bottom: Kern County Planning Commissioners (right) Ron Sprague (Chair), Peter Belluomini and Jeff Flores. CommissionerChris Babcock was absent.

By Patric Hedlund

A late-night public hearing about the proposed Frazier Park Estates in Lebec ended in a 2-2 vote by Kern County Planning Commissioners at about midnight on Thursday, Aug. 27. Another hearing has been set for October 8.

“I was shocked to say the least…absolutely surprised at how Chairman Sprague handled it,” said Darren Hager, president of the Lebec County Water District Board and owner of Stage Stop Hay and Mercantile.

The fifth member of the panel, Chris Babcock, was absent. There was wrangling between Chairperson Ron Sprague (Supervisor Ray Watson’s appointee) and county counsel regarding the legality of trying to push a second vote through without following state law for public notice.

“Can’t we just give Mr. Babcock a video tape and ask him to vote?” Sprague said.

After hearing for an hour from Bakersfield’s Michael Callagy’s Cornerstone Engineering team on behalf of the developer, Sprague gave the water district two-minutes at about 11 p.m. to tell of their consultants’ warnings regarding hazards to the water supply posed by the development. Hager said his water district had invested in studies which showed current mountain residents could be put at risk by the water demands of a development the size of Frazier Park Estates if it is built as proposed.

Ken Hurst, President of the El Tejon School District Board of Trustees, who is a Ph. D. geologist, also had two minutes to tell commissioners that the Frazier Mountain High School well level was falling rapidly even without a large development being built beside it. Callagy’s plan is to pump water from the same aquifer as the high school, from a well just a stone’s throw away from the school district’s.

“If we lose that water, I don’t know what we would do [to supply the school],” Hurst said.

Eric Anderson, who was past president and member of the Mountain Communities Town Council for 10 years, said the Frazier Park/Lebec Specific Plan had taken several years and much hands-on effort to specify the community wants open slopes (rather than Santa Clarita-style development). He said the open space needs to be maintained to support the area’s “ecotourism economic development model.” He said the dark skies of the mountains attract extensive tourism by amateur astronomers in the area.

Commissioners asked no questions of community members who rose to speak.

Kern County Planning Department personnel were visibly uncomfortable with Sprague’s urgency to pass the developer’s proposal without following a legal framework which could shield the county from legal liability.

Numerous concerns about the proposal for 662-homes, 41 apartments and 32 acres of commercial space were listed in the planning department’s factual presentation to the commission. Lorelei Oviatt said concerns range from the extensive blasting plus the massive grading proposed (“We’ve never authorized this amount of cut and fill in this county before,” Oviatt said); plans to build on ridge lines (contrary to Kern County regulations and contrary to the Frazier Park/Lebec Specific Plan); seismic danger (the San Andreas Fault runs prominently through the development site); and recommendations that the development needs a secondary water source for when another seven-year drought strikes.

The studies and proposal have been developed by Michael Callagy’s Cornerstone Engineering of Bakersfield. Callagy said his client, Frank Arciero, Jr. of Paso Robles, has “poured $6 million into this plan since 2002.”

Commissioners Leticia Perez and Peter Belluomini voted to support the planning department’s scaled-down version of Callagy’s plan. The staff’s alternative would stay within the Frazier Park/Lebec Specific Plan guidelines, observe slope ordinances, lessen seismic danger and pose less drought-condition danger to the current residents of the Mountain Communities. It proposes 188 houses and maintains all of the commercial development.

Belluomini said a specific plan “is not just a pile of papers with no meaning; it represents the hopes and desires of residents for their area.”

Commissioner Jeff Flores said he liked the artist’s renderings shown by the developer of ridge-top home sites, saying, “I think it is attractive; it looks like Spain.” He added that he thought other developers would think poorly of Kern County if the commission didn’t approve a plan into which the developer had sunk $6 million. Flores and Chairperson Sprague voted against the Kern County planning staff’s scaled-down proposal. Both said they would accept Frazier Park Estates as submitted by the developer.

“This is just what Frazier Park needs to pull it out of the hole it is in,” said Sprague.

Hager didn’t take the words from Supervisor Watson’s appointee lightly. “If he thinks this is just a hole…it was insulting to the Frazier Park community that I live in. That comment goes hand-in-hand with overlooking water issues, environmental impact and the Frazier Park/Lebec Specific Plan just so he—who is in real estate—can see more homes bought and sold up here.”

This is part of the September 04, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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