Central Valley legislators request audit of high speed rail land acquisition procedures

By August 07, 2013

SACRAMENTO – Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-Madera, announced they have submitted a request to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee asking them to review the process by which the California High Speed Rail Authority is acquiring privately owned land.

On Jan. 14 the California State Public Works Board authorized the authority to begin acquiring 356 parcels of prime farm land in Fresno and Madera counties. The acquisition of right of way is a critical prerequisite before the authority initiates the largest state public works project in the nation’s history.

Specifically, the request asks whether the authority has specific policies and procedures in place that would allow landowners to appeal appraisal values prior to the initiation of eminent domain proceedings and what safeguards are in place to ensure fair and reasonable offers. Bigelow and Patterson noted that effective oversight is needed to protect private property owners and to ensure that no landowners are unnecessarily displaced.

“California agriculture is one of the state’s premier industries and in order to protect hundreds of acres of the most productive agricultural lands in the world, it’s important we know the process for such acquisition,” Bigelow said. “Our valley’s farmland and citizen-owned private property can’t be replaced, so we have to make sure we get it right the first time because there is no going back.”

A previous audit request for the right of way information was submitted to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in March of this year but was rejected after authority officials stated they could provide the information within a “few days.” To date, that information has not been provided.

“We cannot allow the authority to continue a reckless, headlong pursuit of high speed rail that results in taking as much property as they can for the least amount of compensation. Private property owners need to be treated fairly and adequately compensated for the loss of their land and businesses,” said Patterson.

The audit request will be reviewed by the committee and the Bureau of State Audits before it is heard later this month.

Kirk Kimmerlshue

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