Two vocal critics of California’s high-speed rail project – both Valley Republicans – scored significant wins this week with legislative efforts aimed at the controversial bullet-train program.
Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed a bill by state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, that requires the California High-Speed Rail Authority to give landowners a right of first refusal to buy back property purchased by the state for right of way or taken through eminent domain, if the land is no longer deemed needed for the project. Senate Bill 940 requires the authority to notify owners that the property will be offered for sale, and wait at least 30 days before it can sell the property to anyone else.
Vidak said that while the rail agency has identified nearly 1,300 properties for its Valley segments between Madera and Bakersfield, he is concerned that if the project falters and is never completed, the state could own property it no longer needs.
Folks deserve the opportunity to get back what belonged to them if the state plans to sell property it bought or seized (for high-speed rail).
State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford
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The rail authority “is trying to take farms, land, businesses and homes, many of which have been in the same family for generations,” Vidak said. “Folks deserve the opportunity to get back what belonged to them if the state plans to sell property it bought or seized” for the project.
In the first construction segment in the Fresno-Madera area, where major work began last year, about 870 pieces of property are needed. As of early this month, the authority reported it had acquired 563 parcels.
In the meantime, Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, has a bill on the way to Brown’s desk after it was unanimously approved by both the Assembly and the Senate. Patterson said his Assembly Bill 2847 would strengthen legislative oversight of the $64 billion rail project by implementing a pair of recommendations from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
If signed by the governor, the bill would require the rail authority to provide detailed information about the cost, scope and schedule of each project segment to make it easier to track changes in the project. It also would require the authority’s business plans to include the costs of financing the construction of the various project segments.
Patterson introduced the bill in February, a day after the authority issued a draft of its 2016 business plan and formally announced its intention to build its first operational route from the San Joaquin Valley to San Jose – a major change from earlier plans dating to 2012 to begin running trains first from the Valley to the San Fernando Valley.
“With every change order and subsequent demand for millions of unplanned-for funds, it becomes more and more clear that the (rail) authority is making things up as they go along,” Patterson said. “Many of my Democrat colleagues are having buyer’s remorse and are finally demanding accountability.”