Acquisitions Disputes for California High-Speed Rail Project Drag On
Ralph Vartabedian reports on the status of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s acquisition of land in the Central Valley. “The slow progress in many cases has pushed back construction timetables for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system, caused delay claims by contractors and hardened the emotions of some property owners.”
The project is already 13 years behind schedule, and the budget overrun is at $44 billion. In the Central Valley alone, the initial cost estimate of $332 million to acquire properties has skyrocketed to $1.5 billion. “There are fights about farm wells and trellises. Debates about the value of nut trees apart from the land where they grow. And tears shed over the loss of land held by families for more than a century,” says Vartabedian.
The authority still needs to acquire 160 of 378 parcels in Kings County. The area has complex agricultural systems, and resistance from farmers has been intense. “When a track cuts a vineyard diagonally, for instance, the trellis structure and the grape vines must be either removed or restrung. That can curtail production for years and the state has to pay for it, farmers say,” reports Vartabedian.
Adding to the slow progress is the fact that one judge from Southern California is hearing the disputes, since all of the county’s superior court judges have recused themselves, and Caltrans lawyers representing the authority are scattered throughout the state.
“The rail authority has acknowledged that it made serious errors in the Central Valley, issuing construction contracts before land was in hand and underestimating the difficulty of the process. It has vowed to not repeat those errors. But fixing what is already broken has become a long process,” notes Vartabedian.