So this is an odd article (from the California Farm Bureau):
As the state's High-Speed Rail Authority plans an 800-mile high-speed rail system that will help alleviate congestion on roadways and transport passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a little over two and a half hours, California's agricultural landscape is likely to change dramatically.
An estimated 300 miles of the project is expected to go through the Central Valley—one of the most productive farming regions in the world.
"There has been a real concern by agriculture about the route that the California high-speed rail project ends up taking and how it is going to impact those properties, as well as properties adjacent to the proposed project corridor," said Andrea Fox, California Farm Bureau Federation governmental affairs legislative coordinator. "While the routes of the project are being planned, we cannot lose sight of the many benefits of California agriculture, not only to support the state and nation economically, but to feed people locally and around the world."
This doesn't really make sense. The ROW they're looking at is very narrow, and follows an existing rail corridor. Sure, some farmland will be lost, but the amount we're looking at is a tiny percentage of the overall acreage in the San Joaquin Valley. It's not like this thing is a 12-lane freeway.
Further, it's totally unclear how HSR would itself have a negative impact on farmland or farmers. It would free up valuable freight rail space, and make it less necessary to have to widen either Highway 99 or Interstate 5, projects that could also wind up taking farmland.
What really seems to be going on here is a concern about sprawl, as well as a desire to use bond money for ag interests:
Merced County Farm Bureau Executive Director Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo foresees this project as creating real problems for the future of agriculture in the Central Valley.
"Unless the state has some real land-use rules to be attached to this project, it will be a nightmare for agriculture," Pedrozo said. "So far, my local, regional and state governments have not given me any confidence in their ability to actually protect and preserve our ability to feed our future generations and ourselves. You are talking about the only place on earth that can do what we do."...
"CFBF supports the concept of mass transit, but we must insist on protecting agricultural land and preventing urban sprawl. Because our success depends on a healthy environment, we are committed to solutions that work," Fox said. "Considering California's projected $21.3 billion budget deficit and the existing $100 billion bond indebtedness, coupled with the need for new water projects and improvements to existing transportation and other infrastructure, we are concerned about cost-effectiveness of this project."
The irony is that we who support HSR are some of the strongest supporters of preserving agricultural land and preventing sprawl. As we've explained numerous times on this blog, HSR is a much better way to limit sprawl, as it encourages in-fill transit-oriented development as opposed to sprawl. I have also repeatedly expressed my belief that the state should push through land use rules strictly limiting sprawl in critical agricultural areas like the San Joaquin Valley, the Sacramento Valley, the Salinas Valley, the Imperial Valley, Ventura County, and other places.
The rest of Andrea Fox's comment there shows that like many other local Farm Bureaus in the state, the California Farm Bureau is hopelessly locked into a 20th century model of how state infrastructure should look. They seem to want more freeways and roads, yet don't understand how that brings more sprawl than HSR would. Whereas HSR would channel population growth to existing cities, freeways would channel it to exurbs. Instead of making Fresno more dense, the Farm Bureau seems to support letting Los Banos sprawl all over the place. It makes no sense from the stance of preserving agricultural land.
California does have a water problem. But that problem is driven partly by global warming, which is causing less rain to fall in the state. Shouldn't the Farm Bureau, whose members are by far the largest consumers of water in the state, be supportive of methods to cut down on carbon emissions and slow the rate of global warming so as to slow the decline in average annual rainfall?
Further, the San Joaquin Valley has some of the nation's worst air quality. Surely the Farm Bureau supports clean air for its workers, its crops, and its neighbors?
The California Farm Bureau is picking a fight with the wrong people. HSR and its supporters are allies of California agriculture, not its enemies. It's time the California Farm Bureau embraced sustainable and carbon-neutral transportation. In return we will be more than happy to embrace their effort to stop sprawl. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.