The state Supreme Court decided Wednesday that it will not take up the challenge to high-speed rail funding sought by opponents in Kings County.
By closing the case Wednesday, the Supreme Court essentially made the judicial score 2-1 against Kings County farmer John Tos, Hanford homeowner Aaron Fukuda and the Kings County Board of Supervisors.
But the fight against high-speed rail is not over, board Chairman Joe Neves said.
“It’s definitely disappointing, but it’s not going to dissuade us,” Neves said. “We’re going to continue to fight it.”
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Just this week, the supervisors voted unanimously to fight the High-Speed Rail Authority on plans that could affect a county fire station next to the proposed route.
The county will also oppose the $68 billion rail project on grounds that the California Environmental Quality Act is not being followed in the planning process, Neves said.
The authority hailed the state Supreme Court’s decision as a major step toward construction of the rail line.
“This decision reaffirms that the authority can continue building a modern high-speed rail system that connects the state, creates jobs and complies with the law,” Authority Board Chairman Dan Richard said in a statement. “We will continue to move forward aggressively to deliver the nation’s first high-speed rail system.”
Fukuda said he will not give up the fight against the rail project.
“I’m as strong as I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s not good news, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Wednesday’s ruling does not clear away litigation against the high-speed rail project.
Six lawsuits are pending in Sacramento County Superior Court challenging the authority’s certification earlier this year of the environmental impact report for the Fresno-Bakersfield section of the line, and approval of the route itself through southern Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties. No date has been set for hearings on those cases.
The Kings County group’s attorneys had argued that the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s preliminary funding plan fell short of Proposition 1A’s requirements that it identify all of the sources of money for the proposed initial operating segment from Merced to the San Fernando Valley.
Last year, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled in their favor. The judge also ruled that the law required the financing plan to include environmental certification for all portions of that operating segment before construction could begin anywhere along the line.
But the 3rd District Court of Appeal on July 31 overturned the Superior Court ruling, clearing the way for the sale of bonds from Prop. 1A, the $9.9 billion bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.
Kings County and several other groups appealed that ruling to the high court.
Stuart Flashman, the attorney for Kings County and the landowners in Kings County, said Wednesday that the refusal by the Supreme Court to get involved means that the battle against high-speed rail will be fought on other fronts.
But the decision is a blow, he said.
“I’m not as confident as I had been,” he said. “It makes me a little bit nervous” that other pending arguments against the High-Speed Rail project might suffer the same fate.
Next year, for instance, it’s expected there will be a court hearing in which opponents will argue that the system as planned doesn’t match what voters approved when they passed Prop. 1A in 2008, he said.
He also said the court’s decision not to hear the appeal “bodes poorly for all kinds of tax measures that go on the ballot because voters are going to say, ‘How do I know they’re going to do this, how can I trust what they say?’ ”
Although the Supreme Court let the appellate court ruling stand, Justice Marvin Baxter wanted the court to rule on the case, a note on the Supreme Court website said.
Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer Harold Johnson, representing a Bakersfield church opposing the project, said the decision not to hear the case supports “bad public policy” of issuing bonds “even before we know what the money will be spent on.”
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had argued that the state couldn’t issue bonds for construction because the rail project as planned is different from what voters originally approved, said the group’s lawyer Timothy Bittle.
But the Supreme Court decision means the state can issue bonds to start building the rail project. “The case is over” as far as the Howard Jarvis group is concerned, he said.