The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s (the “Authority”) first request to seize a parcel in Fresno County through eminent domain has been approved by the State Public Works Board (the “SPWB”), the state agency that oversees fiscal matters associated with construction of projects for state agencies. The Authority made its request to the SPWB because its negotiations with the property owner to purchase the parcel were unsuccessful. As a result of the SPWB’s approval, the Authority can now file a complaint in eminent domain to ask a court to determine the fair market value of the parcel and the compensation owed to the property owner. The Authority has closed escrow on five of the 380 parcels within the first stretch between Madera and Fresno.
Under California’s eminent domain law, if a judge determines it is necessary and appropriate, the Authority also can take immediate possession of the property before a determination has been made regarding its fair market value and start construction while that determination is being made. However, in light of last month’s decision by the Sacramento Superior Court, wherein the state’s funding plan for the high-speed rail project was invalidated and the Authority was required to meet all environmental clearances before selling bonds, it is unclear whether the SPWB’s approval will be argued to be premature in any eminent domain proceeding.