Corruptus in Extremis
(L.A. Times) - John Diepersloot squinted under a bright Central Valley sun, pointing to the damage to his fruit orchard that came with the California bullet train.
He lost 70 acres of prime land. Rail contractors left mounds of rubble along his neat rows. Irrigation hoses are askew. A sophisticated canopy system for a kiwi field, supported by massive steel cables, was torn down.
But what really irritates Diepersloot is the $250,000 that he paid out of his own pocket for relocating wells, removing trees, building a road and other expenses.
“I am out a quarter-million bucks on infrastructure, and they haven’t paid a dime for a year,” he said. “I don’t have that kind of money.”
Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, farmers have similar stories. The state can take land with a so-called order of possession by the Superior Court while it haggles over the price.
But farmers often face out-of-pocket costs for lost production, road replacement, repositioning of irrigation systems and other expenses, which the state agrees to pay before the final settlement.
Those payments and even some payments for land have stretched out to three years. State officials have offered endless excuses for not paying, the farmers say.
Eminent domain,the legal process by which government takes private land,is complicated enough, particularly in California with a maze of agencies involved. But the rail authority’s constantly changing plans, thin state staff and reliance on outside attorneys have made it more difficult, some say.
“They are bogged down,” said Mark Wasser, an eminent domain attorney in Sacramento who has represented more than 70 farmers and other businesses losing land to the rail project. “I would draw an analogy to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.”
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