Dozens of concerned, anxious residents packed into Palo Alto City Hall Tuesday night to pepper a legal expert with questions about eminent domain and the high-speed rail project--which some realtors say is already hurting home values.
Andrew Turner, a partner in Turner & Turner, a law firm specializing in eminent domain litigation, described a multitude of circumstances in which homeowners and business owners might have to relocate to make room for the bullet train's wider footprint.
"Folks seem very serious and concerned about high-speed rail," Turner said. "The questions had a lot to do with how the impact of the project would be considered in appraising the remaining properties, and also questions about whether folks whose property will not actually be acquired for the project will have any sort of claim for inverse."
Indeed, some realtors are complaining that the train project is already forcing down home values.
"Just by the rumor of this high-speed rail, the property values have gone down," said realtor Chris Klovdahl, of Palo Alto's Wilbur Properties, a Coldwell Banker firm.
Mr. Turner outlined in his presentation the requirement for homeowners along the train corridor to disclose the threat posed by eminent domain. That threat falls alongside all other mandatory reporting requirements, such as natural disaster hazards.
"What this eminent domain lawyer says is exactly right," said Klovdahl. "For any of these people that want to sell now, they have to disclose that this could happen, because if they don't disclose it, and people buy their house and it happens, people could come back and sue that seller."
Gary Patton, a Palo Alto native and head of the Sacramento-based Planning and Conservation League, rallied the attendees after Mr. Turner's remarks, urging them to join into a united front advocating for a trench-and-cover or tunnel option, rather than elevated tracks.
"Lets hang together now," said Patton, "and make certain that we don't have a high-speed rail project that runs on an elevated freeway-like structure right through the middle of every community along the SF Peninsula, destroying property values and community values, the local economy and the environment of these cities."
That line was met with boisterous applause from attendees.
Chris Klovdahl agreed. "I don't know one person that wouldn't want to see the whole thing tunneled," he said. "The worst is having this albatross above us, like BART. You think BART looks good in Oakland?"
The High-Speed Rail Authority, whose CEO, Roelof van Ark, last week said that Peninsula cities should consider the value of trench-and-cover, has nonetheless removed that option for nearly all Peninsula cities.
HSRA has yet to respond to numerous attempts by Palo Alto Patch to discern why van Ark was touting an option that has been removed from all current designs.