Outrage: California stiffed farmers over land seized for high-speed rail route

Good Lord. More than three years after the state of California seized land through eminent domain for its high-speed rail boondoggle, the state has yet to pay farmers expenses they owe them. And in some cases, they still owe them for the land as well — even while it remains questionable whether the state will ever get around to using it:

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.

We’re not talking about chicken feed, either. One farmer is waiting for California to fork over $1.9 million for the past three years. Even farmers who voluntarily sold land haven’t been paid for it. One tells the Los Angeles Times’ Ralph Vartabedian that he’s still waiting for his $630,000.

Not everyone’s waiting for their money. Some are no longer in a position to collect it, as was the brother-in-law of the farmer waiting for his voluntary-sale proceeds:

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.”

Now that most of the project has been put off indefinitely, the land seizures could end up standing as silent — and barren — testimony to bureaucratic idiocy. The farmer wondered all along why the state didn’t just choose to run the high-speed rail parallel to Interstate 5, which already has a straight line through California’s interior and its own right of way, rather than destroy productive agricultural resources. The state has destroyed all that production and damaged other agricultural investments all while failing to admit that they can’t figure out how to make the project work at all.

And they can’t even figure out how to pay for the land they took, nor for the damage they did. Small wonder that one of the attorneys involved analogized the situation to one of the world’s most famous military disasters. “I would draw an analogy to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia,” Mark Wasser told Vartabedian. In a state with a healthy electorate, voters would hold the high-speed-rail-supporting politicians responsible for this disaster, but this project’s not the only thing in California that runs like Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.