Environmental report ordered for proposed Islamic center

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Saying enough questions have been raised about the project, county leaders have ordered an environmental-impact report done on a proposed Islamic center off Stockdale Highway.

Tuesday afternoon, Kern County Supervisors unanimously voted for that review.

Critics still voiced their concerns, but the attorney for the Islamic center said the EIR will be good for everyone involved.

"One of the things that's going to come out of the EIR is to figure out what exactly what everybody's concerns are, and what ways to best present the project in ways that are protective to the county, protective of our project and move forward at that point," Islamic center attorney Fatima Dadabhoy told Eyewitness News.

The project calls for a church, a "faith-based community center," and school for kindergarten through eighth-grade students. The church, or mosque, is planned with a 49-foot dome and 52-foot steeple, according to planning reports. It would be located on 9.6 acres at the northeast corner of Stockdale Highway and Driver Road.

Neighbors worry about impacts. Though a conditional use permit for the project was approved by the Kern County Planning Commission in November, a group of residents appealed to the Board of Supervisors. Critics voiced concerns again on Tuesday.

Nora Weber worries about an adequate sewer or septic system, and she doesn't think there will be enough space for people or parking.

"It's just nonsense, it won't work here," Weber told the board. "I don't care how many environmental-impact reports you do. It's not going to work."

She said there will be too many people at the location, coming five times a day to pray.

"Some of the concerns raised don't really have to do with whether our project should be allowed," Islamic center attorney Dadabhoy said. "Yes, Muslims do pray five times a day, but there's no requirement that they have to go to the mosque every day for every prayer."

She said services are held on Friday afternoons, when Muslims are required to be at the mosque. But, Dadabhoy also said the size of the congregation will be smaller than the neighbors fear.

But, Rosedale-area resident Conni Brunni also worried the site won't work. She argued it was originally set up as four parcels.

"It's currently zoned, and had an environmental-impact report that covered the use of four families," Brunni said. She asks what the impacts will be with a congregation of 1,300, plus school students. Brunni also worried about impacts on the use of chemicals at nearby farms.

And, farmer Steve Fleishauer has 40 acres of almonds nearby. He worried about water use.

"We had a well, a domestic well, go dry last month," Fleishauer said. "It's just a struggle. I don't think Vaughn Water probably has sufficient resources to supply this without drilling more wells. Drilling more means sucking more water out."

Critics are also worried about traffic impacts on the area's small roads and on Stockdale Highway.

The Buckaroo Residents Group launched the appeal of the project, and on Tuesday their attorney thanked the supervisors for hearing out their concerns, and said they support the decision to take the issues to the EIR level.

Two more supporters also spoke up. Daniel Likins said he was worried by some of the criticism.

"As a resident of Bakersfield, I'm saddened by the fact that there's so little discussion as to how to make this happen," he told the board. "These people have a constitutional right that's protected to worship."

The center attorney said her group looks forward to the environmental review, but also said she was "disappointed" by some comments on Tuesday.

"I don't think they all address necessarily the legality of the project," Dadabhoy said. "But, the project's going to be here. It's just going through these hurdles now, so that's what we're going to work through at this point."