LA Times Sees a Land Acquisition Crisis Where None Exists
Our old friend Ralph Vartabedian is at it again, spinning yet another article biased against the California high speed rail project. This time it’s his claim that the state is late to begin purchasing right-of-way for the Madera-Fresno high speed rail construction segment:
Construction of California’s high-speed rail network is supposed to start in just six months, but the state hasn’t acquired a single acre along the route and faces what officials are calling a challenging schedule to assemble hundreds of parcels needed in the Central Valley.
The complexity of getting federal, state and local regulatory approvals for the massive $68-billion project has already pushed back the start of construction to July from late last year. Even with that additional time, however, the state is facing a risk of not having the property to start major construction work near Fresno as now planned.
It hopes to begin making purchase offers for land in the next several weeks. But that’s only the first step in a convoluted legal process that will give farmers, businesses and homeowners leverage to delay the project by weeks, if not months, and drive up sales prices, legal experts say.
Or not. This is pretty typical practice for building major transportation projects in California. Land purchases tend to happen close to the construction start date for a variety of reasons, one of which is that funding to begin purchases usually isn’t available until all other project approvals have been given. And construction can begin soon thereafter because the approvals are in. It’s no different than a light rail line or a freeway widening, projects where land acquisition happens without much trouble or fuss.
In fact, had the California High Speed Rail Authority been buying land sooner, they’d have come under criticism for driving down land prices based on a project that isn’t sure to be built, and hoarding land that theoretically might never be used. That was a major point of contention in South LA in the 1970s and 1980s when the state had already purchased and cleared the right of way for the Century Freeway/Interstate 105, but did not actually start building until the late ’80s. Some of that delay was due to lawsuits, but other delays came because of uncertain state funding. Had the CHSRA begun sooner, I’m sure there would have been a Ralph Vartabedian article trashing them for that too.
It’s true that there will be those along the HSR route who will not be willing sellers:
Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, which is suing to halt the project under the California Environmental Quality Act, said the rail authority will face strong opposition to condemnation proceedings in the Central Valley. The bureau has hired a condemnation expert to help battle the land seizures….
Kole Upton, an almond farmer who leads the rail watchdog group Preserve Our Heritage, questioned the rail agency’s expertise in conducting complex appraisals of agricultural land that has orchards, irrigation systems and processing facilities.
“I am not sure this thing has been well thought out by people who have a deep understanding of agriculture,” Upton said. “I live on my farm, and my son lives on my farm. My dad started it after World War II. This is our heritage and our future.”
But Caltrans is available to help assist in this process, as is the state Attorney General’s office. There is plenty of expertise in this process, and the courts can be expedient in processing these cases.
This article, as with so many by that author, is much ado about nothing.