High-Speed Rail

More than 200 properties face condemnation to clear way for high-speed rail

An illustration of a California high-speed rail train.
An illustration of a California high-speed rail train. SPECIAL TO THE BEE

The number of Valley properties identified for possible condemnation by the state for its high-speed rail project has grown to more than 200 after a recent vote by the State Public Works Board.

The three-member board, made up of the heads of the state’s Transportation, General Services and Finance departments, adopted 23 resolutions declaring a public need and authorizing the use of eminent domain to acquire properties in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. The land, adding up to more than 115 acres, is deemed necessary by the California High-Speed Rail Authority for the first two construction segments of its statewide bullet-train network.

The May 20 meeting in Sacramento was the second round of condemnation resolutions adopted by the board during the month. On May 8, the panel authorized eminent domain for 14 pieces of property amounting to about 85 acres in the four-county region.

Eminent domain or condemnation is a legal process by which a government agency can go to court and sue a landowner to acquire property for a public project. Typically, it is a last resort when the agency and property owner are at loggerheads on price and terms. A Superior Court judge first decides whether the agency is entitled to the property; in a second phase of the case, a trial determines the fair market value and other “just compensation” due the owner. The verdict can be no lower than the agency’s offer and no higher than the owner’s counteroffer.

Since December 2013, the Public Works Board has adopted 230 such resolutions covering more than 625 acres of land in the four counties. The first two construction packages span about 95 miles from the northeastern edge of Madera, near Avenue 17, to just north of the Tulare-Kern county line.

1,291Properties needed for high-speed rail from Madera to Bakersfield

0.01 acres to 39.44 acresSizes of properties targeted for condemnation for high-speed rail

Extending southward

In addition to the eminent domain resolutions, the Public Works Board this month also formally approved site selection of 173 parcels for the rail authority’s third construction package, which extends the route south to Shafter in Kern County. Site selection gives the rail authority the green light to begin negotiating with those property owners for land needed for the railroad’s route and associated structures such as road over- or underpasses, bridges or elevated trackways.

While the rail authority faces a raft of lawsuits over its statewide plans and its approval last year of its Fresno-Bakersfield section, the agency continues to move ahead with what has been a slow process of acquiring the right of way it needs for construction. It awarded its first construction contract, for 29 miles between Fresno and Madera, in mid-2013 for about $1 billion. A second contract, for about $1.4 billion, was awarded in January for the 65-mile stretch from Fresno to the Tulare-Kern county line.

Between federal stimulus and transportation funds and state bond money, the state rail agency has about $6 billion for construction of its sections in the San Joaquin Valley. Those sections, adding up to about 120 miles, are proposed to serve as the backbone of a system that would eventually link San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim with electric trains traveling at speeds up to 220 mph. The entire 520-mile line is estimated to cost about $68 billion by the time it is planned to be fully operational in 2028