The state’s high speed rail project may be taking local landowners for a ride, but Corcoran residents were armed with information to punch their own tickets during a workshop last Thursday evening.
The session was hosted by concerned Citizens for High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) and the Kings County Farm Bureau and drew about 40 residents whose properties will be impacted by the rail plans. The two organizations brought along attorneys Ray Carlson and Mario Zamora, along with real estate appraiser Keith Hopper. All are well versed in the high speed rail project.
The Fresno to Bakersfield segment of the rail project passes through Kings County east of Hanford and just east of Corcoran. It impacts approximately 545 parcels of land, several of them in the county. Both homes and farmland are affected.
Carlson, who has been enjoined in the fight against the project for the past four years, explained the eminent domain process and gave a description of the high speed rail project as it currently exists. Work expected to be completed during this phase of the project will consist of a dirt pile, surrounded by fences on both sides.
“This phase will not complete the project,” he noted.
Carlson added that the high speed rail authority has hired four to five appraisal companies to make land offers and some are not from California, operating out of Arizona and Texas. The different groups, he said, are appraising properties differently, so there is no conformity.”
And regardless of whether landowners are approached by a good company or a poor one, they are not going to feel “whole” at the end of the process, said Zamora.
While many residents have had discussion with appraisers, some landowners have received appraisals without having been contacted to be part of the process. Without landowner participation, property improvements can be missed and appraisals can come in low.
Added to that, the high speed rail authority has set a very aggressive time frame to get the work done, since federal monies must be spent by 2017. And even though those funds have been provided, the newly elected Republican Congress has made it clear no additional funds will be sent to complete California’s high speed rail project.
Aaron Fukuda of CCHSRA told those present they need legal representation to get through the process, especially if the high speed rail authority attempts to take property by eminent domain.
“You get one shot at this,” he told those present.
Unfortunately, residents can also expected to be pressured every step of the way, since the timelines for HSR have been so compressed. They should not respond in a hurried fashion, said Fukuda, since any eminent domain civil cases will be heard in Kings County, and the earliest cases are currently scheduled for May of 2016.