State board approves high-speed rail sites, OKs condemnation actions

The State Public Works Board on Wednesday approved the selection of nearly 160 parcels in Fresno and Kings counties for eventual acquisition for California's controversial high-speed train project.

Meeting in Sacramento at the state Capitol, the panel comprised of the heads of the state's Finance, General Services and Transportation departments, also adopted resolutions declaring a public necessity to condemn four pieces of property in Fresno and Madera counties for the rail line.

The actions were requested by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is responsible for developing the statewide passenger-train system to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles by way of the San Joaquin Valley. Contractors for the authority have started demolishing buildings and clearing parcels in the Fresno area to prepare for building on the first 29-mile construction segment between Madera and Fresno.

The Public Works Board approved the rail agency's selection of 158 parcels that have been identified as needed, either in whole or in part, for the bullet-train right of way and structures such as road overpasses. The parcels stretch from American Avenue at the south edge of Fresno to Highway 198 east of Hanford in Kings County, and represent a portion of the agency's second construction segment, a 65-mile span that reaches to near the Tulare-Kern county line.

For the first construction segment in Madera and Fresno counties, the board adopted four resolutions of necessity which authorize the use of eminent domain, or condemnation, to acquire about 20.1 acres of land whose owners have been unable to reach agreement on price and terms with the rail agency.

In Madera County, the targeted properties are farmland owned by Pacific Orchards on the north side of Avenue 7, east of Highway 99. The three Fresno parcels are the site of a Valero gasoline station at the northeast corner of Shaw and Jennifer avenues, east of the Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks; the Holiday Motel on Golden State Boulevard between Olive and West avenues; and a vacant parcel at the northeast corner of Belmont and Harrison avenues, east of the UPRR tracks.

A fifth parcel that was proposed for condemnation, at the southeast corner of Fresno and G streets, was removed from consideration at Wednesday's meeting.

Eminent domain or condemnation is typically a last resort that government agencies can use to acquire property for public works or transportation projects when the agency and property owners cannot agree on price and terms. Eminent domain lawsuits are filed in the local Superior Court in the county where the property is located. The law requires that owners receive "just compensation" for their condemned property, and if the sides remain in disagreement, a judge determines what the government must pay.

Compensation involves not only the value of the property, but also related damages to an owner caused by the loss of the property that cannot be prevented or otherwise recovered. When it comes to business properties, factors in determining compensation include the cost of relocating structures, inventory and equipment as well as "loss of goodwill," or the impact of moving from a long-established location that is familiar to customers.

Since December 2013, the Public Works Board has adopted condemnation resolutions for at least 20 parcels in Fresno and Madera counties for the first construction section.