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Gianelli & Associates News Blog

Monday, November 2, 2015

Eminent domain: How the California Government Can Buy Private Land for Public Use

A controversial plan to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of California farmland into a high speed rail corridor has certainly been making news headlines.

But despite being confronted with a host of lawsuits, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is still planning to undertake the massive public works project, the fruit of a multi-billion dollar bond measure approved by voters in 2008.

CHSRA's use of eminent domain entails purchasing numerous and often odd shaped parcels from area farming operations to facilitate the construction of the high-speed rail project.

When the high-speed rail project is finally completed in 2029, commuters will zip between San Francisco and Los Angeles at speeds approaching 200 MPH. Purported southern and northern extensions will reach to San Diego and Sacramento. Up to 24 stations are planned.

Proponents maintain that the high-speed rail project will bring well-paying jobs and other economic benefits to the Central Valley area. In addition, with millions more residents expected to add to the state's population, rail travel will help to dispel reliance upon fossil fuels.

Yet some Central Valley farmers find the fruits to be too bitter for their palates. Some claim the high-speed rail route will intersect and fragment farming operations, slicing through numerous parcels in a matter inconsistent with farming logistics.

Just what is eminent domain, and why does it have farmers upset?

It is the authority of the government, or bodies empowered by same, to exercise its power for the benefit of the public to condemn and seize land without the permission of its owners. Common purposes for the application of eminent domain are public works such as freeways, parks and railroads.

Owners of land that is condemned for seizure by eminent domain are entitled to fair compensation at market value.

And there's the rub. The government's methods for determining market value are often found to be inadequate by those whose property is to be seized.

The definition of eminent domain as expressed above is eminently simple, clear and concise. Yet the controversy it causes in its implementation often leads to complications with significant ramifications.

The Yale Law Journal has expressed concerns that states' use of eminent domain regularly disregards the constitutional protections of due process afforded to landowners. The journal opined that a legal hearing before a judge should be requisite before any land is taken under the eminent domain statute.

Whether or not that's true, the first section of the rail line is to go from Madera to Fresno and then on to Bakersfield. Full funding for the high-speed rail line has continued to prove elusive and the subject of ongoing controversy.

If you receive notice that your property is to be condemned under eminent domain, there are a number of things we can help you through to ensure you get the maximum value for your land. We have years of experience negotiating eminent domain sales prices with Government agencies and want to help protect our central valley farmers and land-owners.


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