California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

It has been a while since we noted the progress (or the lack thereof, as the case may be) of the California high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now word comes from the Associated Press, via the San Jose Mercury News that

“The body overseeing plans to build California’s bullet train has started the daunting and expensive process of acquiring thousands of acres in the Central Valley, where the rail line’s proposed path would slice through farms, stores and motels.

“But months after shovels were supposed to be in the ground, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is in escrow on just one parcel of the 370 it needs to buy or seize through eminent domain for the first 30 miles of construction. The agency says it is within 30 days of reaching deals on another 38 parcels and is negotiating over hundreds of others.”

Not exactly surprising, but there it is.

As usual in eminent domain reportage this dispatch contains stuff that makes clear that its authors are not what you might call well informed.

“California’s eminent domain law limits the amount of money the rail authority can offer above the county’s assessed value.”

Not so. Compensation in eminent domain has little or nothing to do with valuation for property taxes. The constitutionally required “just compensation” in eminent domain casesĀ is defined by statute as “fair market value” which is the highest price that would be paid by a willing but unpressured buyer to a willing but unpressured seller in a voluntary market transaction, with both parties aware of the property’s good and bad features, and giving due consideration to the property’s highest and best use (i.e., its most profitable use). See California Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1263.320. Also, fair market value may not include any increase or decrease in value attributable to project influence or any steps taken toward its construction. Section 1263.330.

And if the taking is partial, compensation also includes the diminution in value, if any, of the remainder — the part of the subject property that is not taken.

For the full AP story, click here