California’s High-Speed Rail project, 800 miles of steel connecting the state’s major cities with 220 mph trains, is controversial to say the least. With support from California’s voters a few years ago, the project has generated lots of news recently from proponents and opponents alike.
Here in the San Joaquin Valley, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) recently held workshops to answer questions and accept comments on the Draft EIR/EIS for the Fresno to Bakersfield segment of the project. Referred to as the backbone of the system, initial construction is planned for 2012 if all goes well in the permitting process.
One apparently unavoidable fact of huge public works projects like these is that eventually, private property may have to be taken under California eminent domain laws in order for the projects to be completed. That future reality is being faced already by some Bakersfield residents – even if the project never gets off the ground.
Property owners whose land and/or homes will be taken will be offered fair market pricing for their property. However, what constitutes fair market pricing? Is it the price the property had before there was any talk of a high speed train running through the neighborhood, is it the price now – before construction has begun – or is it the price when the final route has been announced?
Some people think that the mere discussion of HSR being built nearby has aleady lowered property values, making selling nearly impossible. Regardless of whether or not the HSR system will be built, some property owners may feel that they are currently in “limbo” if they want to sell their property now. They may feel trapped and may ask, “Who will buy my property today knowing that they may lose it in another year or two, and at an even lower appraised price?”
Nevertheless, at least those whose homes and property will be taken can at least expect to receive compensation for their loss. But what of those property owners whose “property” won’t be taken, those who will suffer visual and audible impacts because of their proximity to the new HSR route?
One of the documents on display at the recent Draft EIR/EIS workshops was entitled Aesthetics and Visual Resources. it details the proposed rail alignments, mitigations that may be made, and unavoidable impacts that can’t be mitigated. The document includes several before and after pictures of the project’s impacts on some Bakersfield neighborhoods. Some of those photos are attached to this article. Two of them show a portion of a Rosedale/Greenacres neighborhood in Northwest Bakersfield.
Current plans for that area will require blocking off a portion of Palm Avenue, re-routing traffic, and removing some homes. As can be seen by the photos, however, the remaining homeowners will be stuck looking at an elevated concrete rail overpass. In addition to the visual blight and loss of current mountain views, they will be impacted by the noisy rumble of HSR trains speeding by on their way to the new downtown station.
When asked if such homeowners would also be offered compensation of some kind, representatives of the CaHSRA couldn’t say. They suggested that the question would be an excellent comment to raise as part of the draft EIR/EIS review process.
Such impacts can be expected wherever the HSR route impacts private homeowners, not just here in Bakersfield. How these impacts are mitigated/compensated will be key to the success of the project.
For more information:
Aesthetics and Visual Resources Document, Fresno to Bakersfield
Fresno – Bakersfield Draft EIR/EIS