Sides go back to court in high-speed train lawsuit

The Fresno BeeDecember 11, 2013 

An artist's rendition of California's high-speed rail.


The combatants in a lawsuit over California's high-speed project head back to court Friday afternoon in Sacramento.

Lawyers with the California Attorney General's Office and attorneys for high-speed rail opponents in Kings County will meet in a case management conference that is expected to set a spring trial date over allegations that current plans for the proposed bullet-train violate Proposition 1A, the 2008 ballot measure that provided $9.9 billion in bond funds to help build the system.

Kings County farmer John Tos, Hanford homeowner Aaron Fukuda and the county's Board of Supervisors sued the California High-Speed Rail Authority in late 2011. Earlier this year, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the rail agency violated Prop. 1A by producing a financing plan that failed to meet the requirements of the ballot measure. The plan did not adequately describe realistic sources of the estimated $31 billion needed to build the first operational portion of the system from Merced to the Los Angeles basin. Kenny also determined that the authority was required, as part of the financing plan, to certify that all of the environmental reviews for the entire Merced-Los Angeles operating section were completed.

Last month, Kenny ordered the rail authority to rewrite its financing plan to comply with Prop. 1A.

Stuart Flashman, an Oakland attorney representing Tos, Fukuda and Kings County, will ask for a March trial date for the second portion of the case, which involves whether the $68.4 billion project now being planned by the rail authority — 520 miles of high-speed line between San Francisco and Los Angeles through the San Joaquin Valley — lives up to what was promised to voters in Prop. 1A.

Some of the key arguments focus on the rail authority's plan for a "blended" train system in which high-speed trains would run on dedicated, grade-separated tracks through most of the state, but share improved and electrified tracks on the Caltrain commuter-train line between San Francisco and San Jose.

Opponents of the plan contend that using shared tracks on the San Francisco Peninsula — a concession to Bay Area communities that did not want a second set of high-speed tracks along with the Caltrain line — will mean that the high-speed trains will not be able to achieve Prop. 1A's requirement of a 2-hour 40-minute nonstop trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Also at issue is whether the blended system meets the standard of "true" high-speed rail or has morphed into something substantially different than what was promised to voters in Prop. 1A; or if the system can operate without a public subsidy, as the ballot proposition required.

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

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