EDITORIAL: Judge's decisions will slow, but not kill, high-speed rail

CHSRA must comply with laws as it constructs state system.

FresnoNovember 28, 2013 

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny listens as attorneys argue over whether he should validate the issuance of high-speed rail bonds from Prop. 1A.

TIM SHEEHAN — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

A group of Kings County residents determined to stop California's high-speed rail project tried to convince Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny that "it would be illegal to proceed with construction of the high speed rail project." Kenny wasn't buying.

They wanted the judge to "preclude the use of any of the $9 billion" in voter-approved Proposition 1A bonds for the project and to stop "any effort ... to commence construction." Kenny wasn't buying that, either.

But the judge's ruling on Monday cannot be sugarcoated. He delivered a setback that will delay the issuance of voter-approved Proposition 1A bonds by months.

Meanwhile, work funded with federal grants will continue on the first 29-mile stretch of construction from northeast Madera to the south edge of Fresno.

The judge ruled in one case that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has to "rescind its approval" of a 2011 funding plan. Jeff Morales, the Authority's chief executive officer, expects to have a new draft soon that will identify funding sources for the high-speed rail backbone in the Central Valley, connecting with BNSF tracks at each end -- not just the first 29 miles. The CHSRA also will need to have environmental approvals in hand for the Central Valley backbone.

The judge ruled in a second case that the CHSRA Finance Committee has to better document why it is "necessary and desirable" to issue bonds for specified amounts. He's right. The CHSRA Finance Committee does need to do a better job of explaining, in detail, its reasoning to the public.

Why did the CHSRA seek authority for the full $8.6 billion approved by voters in 2008, instead of amounts needed for the first phase of work? It is understandable that the CHSRA would want to authorize bonds once instead of having opponents challenge every authorization.

Why not simply authorize the $4.7 billion amount that was passed by the Legislature and approved by Gov. Jerry Brown last year? That would provide $2.6 billion for the initial segment in the Central Valley -- plus funds to connect existing rail with high-speed rail and work on the bookends in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

In California, we make infrastructure projects difficult with laws and initiatives that opponents can use to deliver "golden spikes." The judge's ruling will slow the project, but it was not a golden spike.

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