No doubt there was great passion behind a lawsuit brought against the agencies working to build the nation's first high-speed rail system in California. But as a Superior Court judge ruled this week in dismissing the case, it was supported by precious little reason — much less the law.
The case was an unnecessary distraction from the important work being done throughout the Peninsula to inform and engage local officials and the public in the process of examining the alternatives being considered for the project. That's unfortunate, because gathering community opinion and suggestions is vital to building the best system we can.
Three opponents of the high-speed train had other ideas. They attempted to use a longstanding agreement between Union Pacific railroad and Caltrain officials on the Peninsula to head off the project. To do so, however, required misreading the agreement, misreading the facts, and misreading the law.
It's not entirely surprising that project opponents would misinterpret the Trackage Rights Agreement between Union Pacific and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. After all, they were never parties to it in the first place. And, that encapsulates the hubris of their lawyers who knew their allegedly "pro bono" effort was a sham.
It's as if, after your next-door neighbor and you negotiate a pact about how you'll share in the use and upkeep of a fence between your properties, a third neighbor from down the street raises an objection. It's not his fence, or his property, or even his agreement. And from a legal perspective, his complaints are irrelevant.
In an attempt to ignore this rather large legal elephant in the room, opponents claimed that the expenditure of public funds on the project would be a waste, because Union Pacific would not agree to share the right-of-way through the Peninsula with high-speed trains.
Here, the facts got in the way. Union Pacific has not refused to work with Caltrain or the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Are there issues to be resolved as all sides work together to complete the project? Yes. But to suggest that cooperation cannot or will not occur is fanciful, contradicted by the both Union Pacific's public statements and the terms of the Trackage Rights Agreement itself, which dictates good-faith negotiations.
As a legal matter, this dispute is over. That's a welcome development for most Californians, who support high-speed rail as a way to create thousands of good-paying jobs, reduce air pollution, and provide us with a cheaper, faster and more convenient way to travel.
It's certainly good news for taxpayers, who will be spared the expense a protracted legal battle would have taken in even more time and money, for the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain, its regional partner in the project, as well as the court itself.
And while dismissal of this suit won't quiet the temper of those who oppose the project, for personal — not civic — reasons, this week's ruling will encourage them to join the discussion about how, and in what manner, to make high-speed rail work for the good of all, before heading to court again for another waste of taxpayer money to defeat another frivolous lawsuit.
That would mark a welcome and well-reasoned change in strategy.
A former State Senator and Superior Court Judge, Quentin L. Kopp serves on the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.