Sacramento judge has a full plate of rail lawsuits

The Fresno BeeSeptember 9, 2013 

The same Sacramento County judge who last month was critical of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's 2011 funding plan will soon decide the agency's request to approve the sale of Proposition 1A bonds for the statewide rail project.

Judge Michael Kenny will hear arguments from attorneys for the rail authority and from opponents, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, on Sept. 27 in his Sacramento County Superior Court courtroom. The California High-Speed Rail Authority wants the judge to validate the sale of bonds from Prop. 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by voters in 2008, so that it can move forward with construction of its first 29-mile segment from Madera through Fresno.

Kenny is also the judge deciding a lawsuit by Kings County and two of its residents, farmer John Tos and Hanford homeowner Aaron Fukuda, who allege that the rail authority's 2011 funding plan and a draft business plan are in violation of Prop. 1A. That lawsuit asserts that the plans failed to fully identify all of the sources of money for the authority to build its "initial operating segment" from Merced to Los Angeles -- the first stretch on which high-speed trains would carry paying passengers.

The suit also states that Prop. 1A requires the authority to certify that it has completed or received all of the environmental approvals needed for the entire Merced-Los Angeles section. To date, the only portion of the route that has been environmentally certified by the authority is the Merced-Fresno section -- and even that omits the area around Chowchilla, where a Y-shaped junction would merge the Merced-Fresno line with tracks connecting to the Bay Area.

Kings County, Tos and Fukuda also said that by proposing to share tracks with existing commuter rail lines in the Bay Area and Southern California, the project is substantially different than what was promised to voters in 2008.

Kenny last month agreed with Tos, Fukuda and the county that the agency's plans did not comply Prop. 1A. But he stopped short of blocking work on the Madera-Fresno section, where the authority hopes to break ground for construction within weeks. Instead, he asked attorneys to submit arguments about legal remedies to the violations. Those arguments will be heard by Kenny on Nov. 8 in Sacramento.

The bond validation lawsuit is focused solely on the sale of the Prop. 1A bonds, not with how the rail authority will use that money.

In June, the Kings County Water District filed a countersuit to the rail authority's bond validation case, asking the judge to overturn the authority's award of a $985 million contract for the design and construction of the Madera-Fresno section. That countersuit has since been separated from the bond validation case, and a trail date is scheduled for January.

The rail agency's board will discuss the Kings County lawsuit and the validation action, as well as other litigation, in a closed session Tuesday before its regular public meeting in Sacramento.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service