California High-Speed Rail (Cont’d.) — Is the Planners’ Doo-Doo About to Hit the Fan?

Things have been quiet on the California high-speed-rail front for awhile, but now, the Los Angeles Times has ended the cease-fire with a bang — the bang taking the form of a front-page article addressing the impact of the proposed new railroad right-of-way on California communities in its path. Ralph Vartabedian, Bullet Train Plan Would Leave Path of Destruction, Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2011, at p. A1.

The focus of this story is the rail builders’ plan to have the high-speed “bullet trains” zoom on a viaduct over a high school in Bakersfield.

“Even though freight trains already lumber not far from from the campus, these elevated trains could rocket by on a viaduct at up to 220 mph every five minutes, eye level with the school library and deafening the stately outdoor commons where students congregate between classes.”

And that isn’t all.

“Across the length of [California’s] Central Valley, the bullet train as drawn would destroy churches, schools, private homes, shelters for low income people, animal processing plants, warehouses, banks, medical offices, auto parts stores, factories, farms, fields, mobile home parks, apartment buildings and much else as it cuts through the richest agricultural belt in the nation and through some of the most depressed cities in California.”

This is a good article because for a change it presents the problem from the point of view of the impacted communities, rather than the would-be railroad builders who in the old days used to dismiss the justified complaints about how they went about their task, by invoking the flippant response that “That’s the price of progress.” Of course, they never did explain why they and their clients should get the “progress” while the innocent folks in the path of their latest route should be the ones to pay the price.

We tend to take the position that if there is a price to be paid for progress — and there always is — it should be paid by its beneficiaries, not its victims. That’s not only good economics and good morality, but also good law.   California Civil Code  Section 3521  says, “He who takes the benefit must bear the burden,” or as we like to put it, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The burdens — economic, social and personal — must fall somewhere, and we see no reason why they should not fall on those who are benefitted — i.e., by the community in whose name the project is being undertaken. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it in Euclid v. Ambler, the community is only entitled to get what it pays for.

So while it remains to be seen to what extent the state railroad builders will try to run roughshod over the folks in the path of that railroad, and to what extent California courts will lend a hand in facilitating the government’s kleptocratic endeavors, we suggest that you not hold your breath waitng for justice.

Oh, we almost forgeot. Do you believe that those 220 mph bullet trains will run between Southern California and San Francisco every five minutes? If you do, get in touch — we’ll give you a good deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.

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