California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

“. . . [T]he state has yet to start full-blown, sustained construction of permanent structures — including bridges, tracks and train stations — at least partly because it lacks most of Central Valley land needed for an initial 29-mile segment that will pass through Fresno. The state has acquired 71 of 526 parcels needed for the segment, about 13% of the total, according to figures provided by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.” Ralph Vartabedian, Lack of Land Slows Work on California Bullet Train Project, Los Angeles Times. Aug. 13, 2014.

This passage pretty much speaks for itself, but it and the rest of the article may be misleading to lay readers unacquainted with the law and practices of eminent domain. It quotes the former chief executive of the project that “acquiring land for transportation typically involves property owners trying to squeeze the state for the highest possible value.” That is nonsense.

The idea that individual farmers in the Central Valley can “squeeze” the state is absurd on its face. Indeed, the history of eminent domain is a history of undercompensation  of landowners. That is why owners who refuse the state’s offers and litigate value — whether before judges or juries — usually make out better than the ones who accept the state’s offers.

As for that nonsense about farmers “squeezing” the state for the taken land’s highest value, the “highest price” is what California law sets as the measure of just compensation that has to be paid when land is taken by eminent domain. Don’t take our word for it. Check out the California Code of Civil Procedure that provides explicitly in section1263.320 (a) that just compensation is the highest  price that the subject property would fetch in a voluntary, private sale transaction between a willing but unpressured seller and a willing but unpressured buyer, both fully aware of the subject property’s good and bad features, including its highest and best use.

Why does the law say that? Because in a voluntary transaction the seller can take his sweet time in marketing the property until he finds a buyer willing to pay top dollar. An eminent domain action deprives him of that ability, so the law provides him with the “highest” price that he could have obtained in a voluntary transaction.

Moreover, the state has the power of taking the property before compensation is finally determined, so owners cannot “squeeze” the condemnor.

 

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