Almanac

News - December 4, 2013

Watchdogs happy with judge's high-speed rail ruling

by Gennady Sheyner

High-speed rail watchdogs in Menlo Park were thrilled when a California judge ruled that the funding plan for the $68 billion high-speed rail system must be rescinded and refused to endorse the selling of bonds for the project.

Two rulings by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny on Nov. 25 dealt with what opponents of the project described as "dual body-blows" to the California High Speed Rail Authority, which is charged with building the rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The project received a major boost in 2008, when state voters approved a $9.95 billion high-speed-rail bond measure. In July 2012, the state Legislature authorized spending the first $2.7 billion from this bond measure, as well as $3.2 billion in federal grants, on the line's first segment.

In response to the rulings, Menlo Park resident Russ Peterson, who belongs to a community coalition on high-speed rail, said: "I have a one-word impression — finally! As an individual, and as part of CC-HSR.org, we've tried to show that high-speed rail in California is an idea with no real plan to get us there."

Mr. Peterson and other rail watchdogs wondered how the decisions will affect funding for Caltrain electrification, which has been tied to the development of a blended rail system with high-speed trains sharing tracks with Caltrain along the Peninsula.

Morris Brown said the rulings, if upheld, would leave Caltrain's electrification plan in search of new funding. "In any case barring a complete change on the federal level regarding additional funding, high-speed rail won't be in our area for at least 25 years, and most likely never," Mr. Brown said.

He said that while it may be possible to secure new funding, the plan likely won't include any further grade crossings or expansion from two tracks to three or four on the Peninsula.

The rulings came in response to a lawsuit from a group of Central Valley plaintiffs — John Tos, Aaron Fukuda and Kings County — represented by attorney Stuart Flashman; and to a request from the rail authority to "validate" the issuance of more than $8 billion in bonds.

In both cases, Judge Kenny sided with opponents of the rail project, though in some cases he didn't go as far as the plaintiffs had hoped. He declined, for instance, to order the rail authority to rescind its existing two contracts for the construction of the first segment, which total about $1.1 billion.

He also did not challenge the rail authority's ability to spend the federal funds, despite arguments from Mr. Flashman that doing so would commit future expenditure of "matching funds" from the state.

Rail authority Chair Dan Richard said in a statement that the agency is "reviewing both decisions to chart our next steps." He stressed that the judge did not invalidate the bonds, and that the court "again declined the opposition's request to stop the high-speed-rail project from moving forward."

Almanac staff writer Sandy Brundage contributed to this report.

Comments

Posted by Dr Doodle, a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2013 at 11:30 am

Err ... so are Mssrs. Petersen and Brown celebrating that Caltrain electrification is now unfunded and unlikely to happen? Or are they just acknowledging that losing Caltrain electrification may be an unfortunate side effect of killing HSR?


Posted by Old MP, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 7:40 pm

So we should waste $68bil. in taxpayer money just so Caltrain can be electrified? Really?


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