Court deals blow to high-speed rail

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Opponents of Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial high-speed rail project are trumpeting validation by a Sacramento County judge who has ruled that the oversight agency failed to comply with financial and environmental promises made to voters when initial funding for the project was approved five years ago.

According to Judge Michael Kenny, the Californian High-Speed Rail Authority “abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law” and failed to identify “sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible.”

However, the ruling fell short off immediately halting funding for the project. An additional hearing, not yet scheduled, will determine whether the project is allowed to continue.

Politicians have been embroiled in conflict over the project almost since its inception. While proponents have hailed Brown for his vision of unifying the state in a publicly accessible form of speedy transport, conservatives in particular have decried diverting so many resources in what they claim is an unsustainable waste of funds for a cash-strapped state.

Brown has identified building the bullet train as one of his highest priorities. He says the network will address pollution and infrastructure needs. But the cost of Phase 1 alone, which would lay track from Merced to the San Fernando Valley, is estimated to cost up to $31 billion.

But the project has been plagued with claims of misappropriation, bureaucratic overspending, misuse of eminent domain and more. Last week’s ruling stems from a lawsuit launched in 2011 by a group of Central Valley landowners, who sued the authority for failure to comply with voter promises.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, among the many vocal critics of the project, lauded last week’s ruling as validation of the concerns raised about the project’s viability.

“We can’t afford this boondoggle that relies on a fundamentally flawed business model,” he said.

“The CHSRA has failed to detail a plan that will fund this program. With no private funds, unreliable ridership numbers and the reliance on hardworking taxpayers to bail out this project, this project should not move forward.

“I will continue to work to deny any federal funds going to this project in order to ensure Californians aren’t left on the hook for this flawed project.”

State Sen. Jean Fuller also commended the ruling, adding that she too has been calling for realistic ridership numbers and identification of adequate funding sources.

“They have continuously failed to do so. I find it unwise to invest so much of the California taxpayer’s money in a project that doesn’t have adequate funding or a credible plan,” said Fuller.

“The state has many more important projects that are in dire need of attention, including a comprehensive water supply that would ensure water supply reliability for the entire state.”

“The only thing that would make me happier than Friday’s ruling would be learning high-speed rail is dead once and for all,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove.

“This is not only a win for those in the Central Valley, but for all California’s taxpayers. The governor and the majority in the legislature are intent on saddling us with this billion-dollar boondoggle. I’m glad to see that the courts are finally stepping in and reevaluating the fiscal legitimacy of this project.”

Story First Published: 2013-08-21