California failed to pay farmers for land they took for bullet train to bankruptcy
John Diepersloot squinted under a bright Central Valley sun, pointing to the damage to his fruit orchard that came with the California bullet train.The Authority has not been able to explain why it failed to pay, but I suspect it is because the state doe snot have the money. It has started a project it cannot afford.
He lost 70 acres of prime land. Rail contractors left mounds of rubble along his neat rows. Irrigation hoses are askew. A sophisticated canopy system for a kiwi field, supported by massive steel cables, was torn down.
But what really irritates Diepersloot is the $250,000 that he paid out of his own pocket for relocating wells, removing trees, building a road and other expenses.
“I am out a quarter-million bucks on infrastructure, and they haven’t paid a dime for a year,” he said. “I don’t have that kind of money.”
Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, farmers have similar stories. The state can take land with a so-called order of possession by the Superior Court while it haggles over the price.
But farmers often face out-of-pocket costs for lost production, road replacement, repositioning of irrigation systems and other expenses, which the state agrees to pay before the final settlement.
Those payments and even some payments for land have stretched out to three years. State officials have offered endless excuses for not paying, the farmers say.
Eminent domain, the legal process by which government takes private land, is complicated enough, particularly in California with a maze of agencies involved. But the rail authority’s constantly changing plans, thin state staff and reliance on outside attorneys have made it more difficult, some say.
“They are bogged down,” said Mark Wasser, an eminent domain attorney in Sacramento who has represented more than 70 farmers and other businesses losing land to the rail project. “I would draw an analogy to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.”
Tim Raven, a walnut and almond grower, is owed $500,000, he told The Times. John Tos, a big grower who has waged a legal battle against the project, says the state owes him $150,000. Wasser says Brenda Church, a former client, has been owed $1.9 million for three years. Ray Carter, who voluntarily sold his farmland, says he has been owed $630,000 for three years.
Carter’s brother-in-law, Vince Carter, also could not collect money for farm property that the California High-Speed Rail Authority took, which gave him a “lot of frustration,” Ray Carter said. “He died of a heart attack. I think it played a role in what happened.”