After nearly ringing the bell on the California High Speed Train Authority and approaching the court house steps, the Madera County Farm Bureau Board of Directors acted by majority vote to settle the lawsuit last month. For my part, I can say that this decision was not taken lightly, and will weigh heavily on all involved for years to come.
The decision to settle came after many intensive, last minute negotiations between the Authority and the Attorney General’s Office, our Lead Counsel Barry Epstein, members of our co-petitioner group, and members of the MCFB Board. Although fraught with difficulties, including appealing to a very diverse petitioner group and satisfying a massive inter-governmental bureaucratic petting zoo, the resulting settlement agreement was nothing short of a precedent setting phenomenon.
The level of precedence, will depend of course on public opinion, however from a litigation perspective (and a CEQA perspective), never before in the history of agriculturally based lawsuits has agriculture been accommodated to this extent. The level of increased land owner protections provided for in the settlement will remain unparalleled far into the future of the statewide projects –and the increased level of mitigation provided for agriculture established a record as the highest amount ever provided to this resource by a State Agency. To view the full settlement agreement, please visit our website www.maderafb.com
Although far from perfect, the settlement also provided MCFB with additional mitigation funding to offset unforeseen impacts of the high speed train. This project, with its colossal scale and far reaching indirect impacts, will undoubtedly cause effects that cannot possibly be predicted this short term. The settlement will allow the MCFB to potentially offset these damages to those affected by the project the most.
The harsh reality of the damage inflicted to the families along the alignment of the high speed train, will never be mitigated, not by any settlement –or any lawsuit for that matter. The fate of Madera County as it continues to grapple with the high speed train project –and all of the tangible truths that come with a massive technological urbanization program, will have to play out outside of a courtroom. Time will tell if history will place us soaring in the annals of diplomacy, but present day reality will hopefully place us higher up, on the leverage and negotiations ladder.
Anja K. Raudabaugh