Kings County sues high-speed rail authority

November 14, 2011 

Kings County and two of its residents filed a lawsuit against the California High Speed Rail Authority, stating that its plan for the central San Joaquin Valley portion of the rail line violates sections of Proposition 1A.

The suit, filed Monday in Sacramento County Superior Court, claims that the authority's use of funds from Prop 1A, which created the agency and commissioned a high-speed rail line, cannot be used under current plans.

According to the suit, the authority's construction of the Valley portion of the rail line illegally uses Prop 1A bond funds for a non-electric, or conventional, rail line. The suit states that because the proposition called for an electric rail system, the use of proposition funds for a non-electric rail line -- even in the "preliminary" stage -- violates state law.

Redwood City attorney Michael Brady, who is representing Kings County and co-plaintiffs John Tos and Aaron Fukuda, said the authority failed to seek approval from the Public Utilities Commission and federal agencies following the passage of Prop 1A.

The suit also challenges the state's obligations to pay for the Valley rail line under current cost and grant projections. Under Prop 1A, bond funding could not exceed 50% of the funds spent on the Valley rail segment. Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation has granted about $3 billion, which equates to a total of $6 billion available for the first segment. The total cost of the segment is estimated over $30 billion, the suit says.

Because of the disparity in available funds and cost projections, the plaintiffs asked that the authority's business plan, released Nov. 3, be declared out of compliance with the proposition and that no bond funding be supplied under Prop 1A.

In April, Brady filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court that alleged similar problems. According to Brady, Monday's lawsuit evolved from that case, and includes recent developments from the High Speed Rail Authority.

"The judge said that, because the authority had not yet said it would use Prop 1A funds, the case was not 'ripe' yet," Brady said.

Brady approached Kings County following a unanimous Board of Supervisors vote to reject the rail agency's plan to construct the rail line through the county.

The county even offered to front some of the costs related to the case, but Brady said he'll work pro bono.

The two other plaintiffs are focused on the effect of the current rail line design and its impact on property owners, including Kings County farmers and ranchers.

The California High Speed Rail Authority declined to comment Monday because its legal department hadn't yet seen the lawsuit.

The reporter can be reached at atavlian@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6659.

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