Who Designed This? Mojave Truck Stop Edition

There are lots of things that my community does not have. As an unincorporated, rural community of less than 5,000 people, we make do without things like doctors, farmer’s markets, movie theaters, and such. 

But one thing we do have is a park. It’s actually quite large, and has lots of well established trees for shade, a playground, basketball court, and picnic tables. Yes, the bathrooms are now permanently closed after being used as a place to take and sell drugs. But still, there’s a splash pad, and the park is full during the spring and summer with kids and families.

The Mojave Park, circa 2020. Photo by Joyce Nash

Can I tell you about one more of our park’s features? The library is located there! Yes, the library is tiny, but it exists! And I just think it’s adorable that the library is in the park, and a great way to make it easier for people to utilize this resource.

So of course there is a truck stop being constructed less than 500 feet from the park. 500 FEET. And less than 200 feet from the library.

To be fair, the property that the truck stop will occupy was previously some kind of gas station, although it’s been vacant for at least the past seven years. There is a hangar-type building with a couple of bays for cars, and there used to be gas pumps. Occasionally, people would use it as a backdrop for photo shoots or videos. You can even see it in the picture.

But now, there will be semi trucks regularly going in and out of this property, less than 500 feet from where children and families go to play and enjoy the outdoors. There are so many things wrong with this plan, it’s hard to know where to start.

Community Health

Our park is truly a gem. I often walk there for exercise, and there are typically other people there, playing with their dogs, tossing horseshoes, or simply existing. In the afternoons, the park is packed with families; blankets on the ground, snacks spread out, and kids running wild through the splash pad. 

It’s common to see summertime cookouts, parties, and reunions. Our park is highly utilized, despite the lack of basic amenities such as bathrooms.

Mojave is not a wealthy community. We have alarmingly high numbers in almost every category where you want the number to be low, including poverty, unemployment, hunger, and chronic diseases.

This park is important; not only is it one of our most valuable community hubs, it also is important to the personal health of all of us who use it.

Research has shown that access to parks and green spaces reduces stress, improves health, and promotes community by providing people with the physical space to create it. A truck stop so close to our only park would have a hugely negative impact on this shared space, our safety, and our health.

Safety

A map of the Mojave Truck Stop (center) and its proximity to a busy crosswalk and park

The truck stop will be located just hundreds of feet from the park, which is itself next to the local high school and elementary school. Kids regularly cross the four lane divided highway to get to the park or school. The crosswalk is within a few hundred feet of where trucks will be entering and exiting the truck stop. 

Those of us in Mojave know that this crosswalk is notoriously dangerous. Because the road is oriented east-west, the glare from the sun can be blinding. Several years ago, a young girl was killed by a vehicle while crossing the street, and that’s what spurred the push to get the slightly more visible crosswalk we have today. 

The park is also the home of the Mojave Veterans Building, which is another hot spot for local activity. It’s the regular meeting spot for the Mojave Seniors; it’s where food distributions happen (with large crowds), and it’s where we vote. All of these activities will become more dangerous if we have to navigate a regular flow of semi trucks to get to them.

Air Pollution

Even with improving standards, trucks still produce a disproportionate amount of emissions. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2019, “The transportation sector accounts for 41% of greenhouse gas emissions in California, and 10% derives from heavy trucks, which comprise only 4% of all vehicles on the road.”

It is infuriating that our community’s main source of green space is about to be subjected to heavy amounts of pollution. The place where we go to run, exercise, and breathe deep is now going to smell a lot more like truck exhaust.

Noise Pollution

Trucks are loud. Libraries, typically, are not. Even with kids playing in the afternoons, the library manages to be a peaceful place. It’s hard to imagine how much harder storytime will be with the regular sounds of trucks within 200 feet. 

Research indicates that noise pollution can have measurable adverse reactions on humans, including hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart disease, and insomnia. The increase in noise will certainly have an impact on our library patrons, but especially the library workers.

Priorities

Kern County can be a real head scratcher. So often, the development we see in our East Kern communities seems to be the opposite of what we need to actually develop. We get liquefied natural gas storage less than a mile from neighborhoods; giant solar farms adjacent to homes and businesses; and now, a truck stop in the place where we go for fresh air, quiet, and community.

Someone, in an office somewhere in Bakersfield, signed off on the permits for this truck stop. Did they pull up a map before they put pen to paper? What was the thought process behind this approval? What are the priorities for the people who make these decisions?

If our health and wellbeing were a priority, it’s hard to see how this is a good idea. If our safety and our ability to get fresh air were priorities, then this truck stop would be a proposal in a trash can.

So what is the priority for Kern County’s leadership? In a word: money. (Power would be a good word here, too). When it comes to East Kern, that means selling out to the highest bidder, regardless of the environmental or community health risks. And sure, money is great. The county needs money in order to provide essential services.

But somehow, those services never make it out to us. I want to see what Mojave and East Kern could look like if our leadership put us first. I think there would be room for all kinds of things without so many truck stops.

Sources:

Farooqi, Zia Ur Rahman, et al. “Vehicular Noise Pollution: Its Environmental Implications and Strategic Control.” Autonomous Vehicle and Smart Traffic, 9 Sept. 2020, http://www.intechopen.com/books/autonomous-vehicle-and-smart-traffic/vehicular-noise-pollution-its-environmental-implications-and-strategic-control, 10.5772/intechopen.85707.

Gies, Erica. The Health Benefits of Parks Written by Erica Gies. 2007. http://cloud.tpl.org/pubs/benefits_HealthBenefitsReport.pdf

“Heavy Trucks Are New Target for Reducing Air Pollution.” Governing, 9 Dec. 2019, http://www.governing.com/news/headlines/heavy-trucks-are-new-target-for-reducing-air-pollution.html#:~:text=The%20transportation%20sector%20accounts%20for. Accessed 4 May 2021.

How Cities Use Parks to Improve Public Health. American Planning Association, 2003, planning-org-uploaded-media.s3.amazonaws.com/publication/download_pdf/Parks-Improve-Public-Health.pdf. Accessed 4 May 2021. https://planning-org-uploaded-media.s3.amazonaws.com/publication/download_pdf/Parks-Improve-Public-Health.pdf

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