High-Speed Rail

State authorizes condemnation for more high-speed rail property

Rail condemnations

• The state Public Works Board voted Friday to authorize the use of eminent domain or condemnation to seize 38 pieces of Valley property for high-speed rail use.

• The land encompassed by the latest resolutions amounts to more than 150 acres in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties.

• Since December 2013, the state has adopted 192 condemnation resolutions that amount to about 425 acres in the Valley.

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The potential tentacles of condemnation could reach out to another 38 pieces of property along California’s high-speed rail route through the central San Joaquin Valley.

The California State Public Works Board adopted resolutions Friday authorizing the use of eminent domain or condemnation to acquire almost 152 acres of land in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties. The three-member panel, which met in Sacramento, includes the heads of the state’s Transportation, Finance and General Services departments and is in charge of acquiring land for state construction projects.

The properties targeted for condemnation represent the largest number of parcels and acreage for which the Public Works Board has approved eminent domain on behalf of the California High-Speed Rail Authority since the first resolutions were adopted in December 2013. To date, the board has authorized condemnation for 192 properties amounting to about 425 acres.

Almost 1,300 pieces of property are needed for the high-speed rail right of way and structures like bridges and road overpasses from the northeastern edge of Madera to just northwest of Bakersfield. That includes 522 in the first construction segment from Avenue 17 in Madera to American Avenue south of Fresno. But as of mid-March, the rail agency has only been able to deliver 137 parcels to its contractor.

The slow pace of land acquisition has been identified for months by the rail agency as a prominent risk to a construction schedule constrained by deadlines — most notably having to spend about $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money from the Obama administration by Sept. 30, 2017, less than 21/2 years away. The rail authority anticipates completing construction of the Valley segments, at a total estimated cost of about $6 billion, by the end of 2018.

Eminent domain, or condemnation, is a legal process in which a government agency files suit to seize property for public purposes. A resolution of necessity, like the 38 resolutions adopted Friday by the state, is the first step in the process when negotiations between the agency and the property owner reach a stalemate. A court determines first whether the government agency is entitled to the land, and then hears arguments to decide the proper compensation that the government must pay to the owner.

Early on, the rail agency pledged that condemnation would be a last resort in negotiations for right-of-way property. But amid dissatisfaction among landowners over the initial purchase offers from the state and complaints that appraisers are grossly underestimating the value of property in the Valley, the number of condemnation resolutions coming before the Public Works Board has accelerated in recent months. The rail authority reports that it has submitted more than 400 resolutions for the Public Works Board’s consideration, and by mid-March had filed court papers against the owners of 40 properties in Fresno and Madera counties.

The pieces of property identified Friday range in size from less than 2,200 square feet to more than 35 acres. Seventeen of the properties are in Kings County, considered a hotbed of opposition to the rail authority’s plans. Another 16 are in Fresno County, while there are two in Tulare County and three in Madera County.

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