June 26, 2019
By Assemblyman Vince Fong
California’s High-Speed Rail is tearing a giant scar across the Central Valley. Construction of the boondoggle is taking land away from farmers without payment and flattening valuable crops while the project flounders. Constantly changing plans have left farmers in the lurch. The way that the High-Speed Rail Authority treats California’s farmers callously disregards the intricate planning and hard work necessary to grow crops in the largest agricultural state.
The High-Speed Rail project was started without a clear vision for how it would be completed. Farmers could not be prepared for this major disruption because the entire High-Speed Rail was only 15% planned at the beginning. It was originally touted to voters in 2008 as a way to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with an electric train that could travel up to 200 miles per hour for $33 billion. Due to cost overruns up to $98 billion, the project’s managers now admit that the project will only connect Madera and Shafter, two cities with a combined population of less than 90,000. There will be no high-speed trains that can reach 200 miles per hour.
In the midst of this mismanagement, farmers are the biggest losers. Using eminent domain, the High-Speed Rail Authority is forcing the sale of valuable cropland without immediate compensation. The Authority is required to pay farmers a fair market price for their land but payments are significantly delayed. The fair market value does not take into account the time and energy lost trying to comply with tearing out miles of irrigation systems or having move crops around. This disrupts years of careful planning. Valuable nut trees in particular require years to bear mature fruit and they cannot be saved once torn out, leading to major crop losses for California farmers in the High-Speed Rail’s path.
Farmers are paying for these costs out of pocket, sometimes reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Despite these good faith efforts on the part of farmers, High-Speed Rail bureaucrats are in no hurry to issue refunds for these significant costs. Farmers have waited years for reimbursements with nothing but excuses from the High-Speed Rail Authority.
The High-Speed Rail has torn up thousands of acres of prime farmland for a failed project that will not accomplish its original goal. As the project stands now, the train will be anything but high-speed. The entire project is completely different than what Californians voted on a decade ago and is a multi-billion dollar bait-and-switch. This madness must stop. The High-Speed Rail Authority needs to make farmers whole and stop destroying their land with nothing to show for it.