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Democrats Vote Down Bill to Stop High-Speed Rail Eminent Domain Suits

On Monday, Democrats in the California State Assembly’s Transportation Committee steamrolled their Republican opposition and killed a bill that would have restricted high-speed rail proponents from using eminent domain laws to commence condemnation actions against properties standing in the way of California Governor Jerry Brown’s pet project, the so-called “bullet train” from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) had offered Bill 1138, which would have prevented the California High-Speed rail Authority from condemning properties in the way of the bullet train unless the agency showed where the money to build the train over that property came from, when the money would be available, and that it had secured environmental clearances. Six Democrats voted against the bill; three GOP members voted for it. The bill only needed six Democrats to vote against it to be killed; of the 16 members of the committee, only five are Republicans.

Patterson has reason to be concerned. In addition to his fears that the money to build the full rail line will never be gathered, as only $6 billion has been made available thus far (leaving the possibility that the rail track will be left unfinished throughout the area), the Fresno Bee reports that California’s State Public Works Board has already passed 192 resolutions declaring a public need to use eminent domain or condemnation in order to buy roughly 425 acres of land in the San Joaquin Valley. The state has filed roughly 50 eminent domain lawsuits against property owners in Fresno County.

Patterson told the Bee, “Eminent domain is absolute and irrevocable. If the funds fall short or the litigation succeeds, there is a real possibility that all this property won’t be utilized.”

Just one month ago, the rail authority had only bought 164 of the 1,066 parcels of property on the route from Madera to the Tulare-Kern county line.

In Kings County, where opposition to the bullet train remains steadfast, no eminent domain lawsuits have been filed by the state, although the state has adopted 26 resolutions to condemn properties in Kings County Superior Court.

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