The California High Speed Rail Authority (Authority) will begin sending out letters this month to many of the property owners affected by the preferred Merced –Fresno rail alignment in Madera County. These letters—seeking access for surveys, geotechnical, archeological and biological data—are the initial land acquisition components of the formula required to build a statewide $100 Billion project. Although the nature of these requests appears somewhat minimal, they are anything but: These letters from the Authority are the first steps in the California Land Condemnation Process (California Government Code Section 7267.2).
The California Land Condemnation Process , or more commonly referred to as ‘Eminent Domain,’ is typically utilized for Caltrans projects, bridge projects and more recently, levee improvement and rebuilding projects by Department of Water Resources. Because of the high monetary costs and legal complexities of invoking this type of action, eminent domain is reserved for projects deemed to have an “overwhelming public good or benefit.” In the case of building a railroad through Madera County with arguably little or no benefit to our area, the “overwhelming public good” is certainly not going to the benefit of agriculture –Madera County’s primary source of economic viability.
A farmer’s fear of the government waltzing into their ‘world’ and snatching up land has many historical truths behind it. But modern day property rights battles have created a backdrop that is much more land owner friendly and anti-government. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13406, which provides for “just compensation,” in actions involving eminent domain. The result of this order now provides just one of many avenues for land owners to object, oppose, deny access to, or otherwise stop projects in their tracks (pun intended) should they feel that they’re getting less than a fair deal during the any point of the land valuation phase. Another opportunity occurs during the land valuation phase, or Notice to Appraise (NOTA), when land owners are given the ability to negotiate and prove to the government the value of their land in terms of heritage and in richness of resources–often to the point that the project is forced to cease or divert. But landowners need to know these options and strategies to protect their rights.
The Madera County Farm Bureau will be hosting a Right-of-Way/Property Acquisition meeting on March 27th, beginning at 12:00pm.
This meeting will be designed to answer your questions about property access, property acquisition, the right-of-way process, and finally the likelihood of eminent domain actions occurring in Madera County. In attendance will be a team of highly experienced ag appraisers, land rights attorneys, and property rights experts. The Authority will also be asked to attend to answer questions about alignment placements, project timing, and other relevant project inquiries. This meeting is open and free to Farm Bureau members who RSVP (lunch will be provided). There will be a charge for non-members and also a requirement to call ahead and reserve a seat. Please bring yourself and your neighbor –you simply can’t afford not to.
Anja K. Raudabaugh