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High-Speed Rail Lawsuit Ruling: California Plan Doesn't Violate Bond Act

The lawsuit by Kings County was a significant threat to California's $64 billion rail plan, based on the plan's ability to meet the terms promised in the 2008 proposition, such as travel time due to sharing tracks with Caltrain.
March 9, 2016, 1pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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The California High-Speed Rail Authority's relief was displayed by a "breaking news" notice on its homepage on Tuesday, March 8: "Today's ruling confirms that we are indeed delivering a fast, modern and environmentally-friendly high-speed rail system that meets the voter-approved requirements under Proposition 1A."

On Feb. 11 in Sacramento County Superior Court, "attorneys for Kings County and two Central Valley farmers argued that the California bullet train project violates state law because it is not financially viable, will operate slower than promised and has compromised its design by using existing shared tracks in the Bay Area," wrote Ralph Vartabedian and Marc Vartabedian for the Los Angeles Times earlier.

"The ruling [PDF] by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny is a blow to efforts to stop the project and boosts California’s $64 billion plan to develop a system of high-speed electric trains to ultimately connect Los Angeles and San Francisco...," writes Tim Sheehan for The Fresno Bee. "But Kenny’s ruling could still be appealed to a state appellate court."

However, all is not copacetic for the High-Speed Rail Authority, as the plaintiffs' attorney noted. In short, the authority can't tap the majority of the $9.95 billion, 2008 bond measure.

“Though the high-speed rail authority may have won this round, the ruling  provides ominous signs about the Authority’s future use of bond funds,” said Oakland attorney Stuart Flashman. “It notes that while the court considers it premature to find the system non-compliant, in its present stance it does not appear that use of bond funds would be permissible.”

See Flashman make his case to The Fresno Bee on Feb. 11 in this video, along with a response from Authority spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley.

The authority has been "relying on about $3 billion in federal transportation and stimulus funds as well as cap-and-trade money from the state’s greenhouse gas-reduction program," writes Sheehan. "[Judge Kenny] added that until the rail authority submits a new financing plan that meets the bond act’s requirements, none of [the bond funds] can be used for construction."

Sheehan lists the opponents' points which they believe violate Prop 1A, which were dismissed, though not entirely, by Judge Kenny:

  • "That a proposed “blended” system in which high-speed trains would share upgraded and electrified tracks with the Caltrain commuter rail line between San Jose and San Francisco is inconsistent with what voters approved in the ballot measure."

'It appears at this time that the authority does not have sufficient evidence to prove the blended system can currently comply with all of the Bond Act requirements,” Kenny wrote. However, he added, "the authority may be able to accomplish these objectives at some point in the future. This is an ongoing, dynamic, changing project."

  • "That the proposed route would be unable to meet Prop. 1A’s requirement to provide a nonstop, 2-hour 40-minute ride between San Francisco and Los Angeles...
  • "That the system would not be financially viable and could not be realistically expected to meet the law’s mandate to cover its operating costs without any subsidy of public funds."
"This was the second portion of the long-running Kings County lawsuit Kenny has ruled on since it was filed more than four years ago," writes Sheehan. "In November 2013, Kenny ruled in favor of the Kings County plaintiffs in the first part of the case." The outcome was overturned at state appellate court, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

Hat tip to Darrell Clarke, transit advocate.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in The Fresno Bee
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