How Is Rail Construction Really Impacting Fresno?
Juliet Williams is a very good reporter for the AP in Sacramento, so when I take issue with some of the things in her article today on high speed rail construction impacts, I’m not criticizing her. Instead I’m wondering whether the impacts described are significant, out of the ordinary, or anything really worth worrying about:
“I just wish it would go away, this high-speed rail. I just wish it would go away,” says Gary Lanfranco, whose restaurant in downtown Fresno is slated to be demolished to make way for rerouted traffic….
Lanfranco says the sum he was offered to buy the property does not come close to replacing the space he owns, debt-free. The adjacent parking lot — a rare commodity — is packed with pickup trucks and cars each day at lunchtime. Lanfranco declined to say how much he was offered, and the offers are not public record.
“It’s not like it’s just a restaurant that I’ve owned for a couple of years and now I can just go replace it. It’s something that I’ve put the last 45 years of my life into,” the 66-year-old says.
It’s not easy to be in the path of an infrastructure project. But this sort of thing happens all the time in California, whether for a widened freeway or a high speed rail line. And it’s worth noting that in Fresno, the California High Speed Rail Authority chose to follow the existing rail right of way, minimizing disruption. One restaurant being bought out isn’t the same as a major disruption to the life of a city.
Especially since Lanfranco won’t tell us what he was offered. The CHSRA is bound to offer fair market value. If Lanfranco wanted more, his complaint is with the real estate market in Fresno, not with the CHSRA.
Aaron Fukuda, a civil engineer whose house in the dairy town of Hanford lies directly in one of the possible train routes, says: “People are worn out, tired, frustrated.”
Fukuda is also a longtime opponent of the project, so of course he’s going to say this.
Raisin farmer Ray Moles may lose a fraction of his farmland, but he says that is not why he opposes the train.
“I think water is more important than rail. Bring some water to the valley, put some people to work, and you’ll have candidates to ride on the rail,” Moles says after finishing lunch at the Cosmopolitan. “They’re putting the cart before the horse. They want to put the rail in this summer, but they don’t want to do the water for 20 years.”
Both are important to the Valley’s future. But it’s not an either/or choice. California can and probably will fund water infrastructure as well as rail infrastructure. Water, unlike rails, simply cannot be wished into existence or created at will. California has to debate and decide how it wants to allocate scarce water resources, especially in an era of climate change where the overall water that’s available might be reduced thanks to a warming planet.
In fact, that’s an argument for high speed rail. If Central Valley farmers want more water, or to at least protect the water they currently have, then they need to support anything and everything that will reduce carbon emissions. Rising sea levels and a warming climate spell disaster for the Central Valley and farmers ought to be at the forefront of supporting carbon reduction efforts.
So far the criticisms being raised here are either not unusual, are coming from known opponents, or have nothing to do with rail itself. There is one criticism that I think is fair:
Among them is Kole Upton, a farmer in Chowchilla whose family has put on hold plans to replace almond trees. The rail authority is busily signing contracts with engineering firms and contractors in hopes of getting shovels in the ground in the next few months.
“When they come in with these routes they put a cloud on your land,” says Upton, who works with his brother and son on the 1,400-acre family farm but has devoted much of his time to fighting high-speed rail.
Yes, it is frustrating to be in that place between the selection of a route and the closing of an eminent domain sale. That’s uncertain and it sucks. But the way to deal with it is to work to speed up the process, not drag it out and fight it every step of the way. It’s really hard to have any sympathy at all for someone whose reaction to the uncertainty of having a projected routed through your land is to try and delay a resolution for as long as possible.
The one thing I will fault Williams for in her article is not including supportive local voices. Many of them do exist, including local elected officials, businesses, property owners, and residents. Only a few locals are “angry” and it’s not any different from a similar infrastructure project anywhere else in the state in that way. The only distinction is that nobody questions whether a freeway widening is necessary or inevitable, but high speed rail is new enough and has enough ideological opposition to where there is some doubt as to whether it will actually happen. Opponents fuel that doubt and then seize upon it, causing disruption in these local communities.
The best way to address local impacts of HSR construction is to seek a speedy resolution to the entire construction process. HSR will leave the Valley better off anyway. And locals will wonder why anyone fought it in the first place.