Court ruling gives big boost to high-speed rail

Judge rejects lawsuit from Central Valley that sought to stop controversial project

California's high-speed rail system surged past a major legal obstacle this week when a Sacramento Superior Court judge tossed out a long-simmering lawsuit from the Central Valley.

The 2011 suit by John Tos, Aaron Fukuda and the County of Kings, maintained that the proposed rail system violates the provisions of Proposition 1A, a 2008 bond measure that allocated $9.95 billion for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles rail system.

By revising the design of the system so that high-speed rail will now share a set of tracks with Caltrain along the Peninsula, the agency has strayed from the plans that were presented to the voters before the 2008 vote, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued during a three-day hearing in Sacramento in February. The initial plan called for a four-track alignment between San Francisco and San Jose.

The change, the plaintiffs have argued, is significant because the blended system would undermine the rail system's ability to achieve the state-mandated goal of going from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes. This would make the rail system ineligible for the bond funds and for federal funds, which are contingent on having state money being available.

In a judgment issued March 4, Judge Michael P. Kenny concurred that the California High Speed Rail Authority does not have sufficient evidence at this time to show that it can comply with all of the requirements of the 2008 bond. The authority, which is charged with building the $64 billion project, has not yet provided the analysis of the trip time from San Jose to the San Francisco Transbay Terminal (its analysis still relies on San Francisco's lone Caltrain station at 4th and King streets, which is about 1.3 miles south of Transbay Terminal), Kenny noted. Nor has it shown that it can achieve a five-minute headway (the amount of time between trains), as mandated by law.

However, Kenny wrote, the rail authority "may be able to accomplish these objectives at some point in the future." He called high-speed rail an "ongoing, dynamic, changing project" and concurred with a recent ruling from the state Court of Appeal, which found that because the project is in flux, it cannot determine whether the project would meet the requirements of the Bond Act.

"There is no evidence currently before the Court that the blended system will not comply with the Bond Act system requirements," Kenny wrote in his ruling. "Although Plaintiffs have raised compelling questions about potential future compliance, the Authority has not yet submitted a funding plan seeking to expend Bond Act funds. Thus, the issue of the project's compliance with the Bond Act is not ripe for review."

Without the necessary analysis, Kenny reasoned, it is premature to determine whether the proposed system would meet the requirements of the 2008 bond. There are, as of today, "still too many unknown variables, and in absence of a funding plan, too many assumptions that must be made as to what the Authority's final decisions will be."

By denying the plaintiff's request that the project be halted, Kenny handed a massive victory to what has been a deeply divisive and controversial project. While supporters, including Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratic majority in the Legislature, consistently laud high-speed rail as a much needed solution to ease traffic congestion, create jobs and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, critics have panned it as a "boondoggle" that has nowhere near the funds it needs to become a reality.

Palo Alto officials had initially supported the project but ultimately turned against it, passing in 2011 a unanimous resolution calling for the project's termination. At the time, residents and council members raised doubts about the system's financial projections, ridership estimates and proposed alignment, which initially called for four tracks, with an elevated berm in the middle for the new bullet train.

By shifting to the blended approach, which was first proposed by Peninsula lawmakers in 2012, the rail authority has helped calm some of these anxieties. The project also picked up some momentum last month, when the rail authority released a new business plan showing the price tag dipping from $67.6 billion two years ago to $64.2 billion.

The new business plan also announced a major change of direction for the rail authority: Rather than launching construction of the line exclusively in Central Valley, the agency now plans to build the first operating segment between San Francisco and Bakersfield.

In presenting the business plan to the rail authority's board of director's Tuesday morning, rail authority CEO Jeff Morales called the new proposal "the game changer, in terms of delivering the program."

The business plan relies mostly on bond funds and on proceeds from the state's cap-and-trade program for building the first operating segment, between the Bay Area and Central Valley. Rail officials hope further improvements and expansions would be financed, at least in part, by private investments and federal contributions.

"For the first time, within available resources, we can actually project out to delivering an operating system," Morales told the board Tuesday.

The board voiced no major concerns Tuesday about the dramatic change of direction in the new business plan. Board member Daniel Curtin said he is "very excited about the new development," which he said would bring new economic opportunities to the two regions that would be connected by high-speed rail.

"We all see the economic pressures being put on the Bay Area by Silicon Valley," Curtin said. "This is a whole change in how that can be approached that, really to me, is the first signal of what high-speed rail will do for California."

Board Chair Dan Richard agreed and lauded the plan for laying out for the public "how we can build the system."

"What is really here, is the sense that we can build this now," Richard said.

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23 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 8, 2016 at 7:32 pm

I don't know what sort of 'evidence' the CA HSR people presented to the Judge, but if is anything like the outright made-up B.S. the HSR people have slung at the public for the past 8 years, this ruling truly is a bizarre development.

The throngs of eager private investors, promised by the HSR Authority at every opportunity, have for the past 8 years steered clear of this fiscal disaster. How did the HSR people spin that in front of the Judge?

This thing will likely create relatively few long term jobs; how many people does Caltrain employ, for a direct comparison? The lions share of 'jobs' will be in the forms of payment to the large multi-national construction companies to build the system that contract the work out. Read, very little in actual local income. Most of the wages will go to transient, skilled union construction workers, as per the wishes of Jerry Brown. It's called political pay back.

The millions of tons of concrete alone needed to build the HSR system will release so much greenhouse gas, that it will take decades of 'clean' operation to simply break even. HSR boosters never want to talk about how the energy that will be required to power the train will almost certainly require the construction of a few large electric power plants, that in CA, mostly use fossil fuel to operate. The concrete may be made in Bakersfield, so I guess that's some local income.

HSR will do nothing to mitigate local traffic, which is the real traffic problem the SF Bay area and the LA basin are dealing with. There is no traffic issue for the millions of people, alleged by the HSR pr machine, that are simply dying to ride a train from SF to a station a few miles north of Bakersfield. A non-existent traffic problem which HSR will solve for how many billions of dollars? Locally, the increase in train traffic with no grade separations in sight, will cause an increase in cross track congestion for sure.

Remember, the ballot initiative promised that the train would be so profitable, that it would earn about $2B each year, if I recall the words correctly. Really?

HSR was a fraud in 2008, it's a more expensive fraud in 2016, and that's a trend that I think you can bank on.

17 people like this
Posted by Travesty
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 8, 2016 at 8:17 pm

What's happening now is not what was on the ballot.

How do we kill this?

Can we influence congress to vote not to provide funding for this on the grounds that it will provide no technology spin-off, no benefit to the environment, does not conform to financing established in its initial vote, will increase suburban sprawl, enshrines political corruption, takes money away from other critical activities?

Are there people in congress who care about throwing huge amounts of money away?

7 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2016 at 8:49 pm


Well apparently the "evidence" didn't paint quite the picture of doom and gloom that you presented, so unless you feel you're one of the few above the fray of a top to bottom corrupt system where even the opposition is in the bag, as they didn't provide the condemning evidence (I'm sure you've reviewed everything that was presented at the trial), you may want to at least consider that you might be wrong... or at least tone down the hyperbole.

13 people like this
Posted by juan olive
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2016 at 11:32 am

Never give up. WE THE PEOPLE know this is all about money. The right and honest at the top need to use their influence, power to stop this.
Everything from where it starts building, to how the cost keeps creeping up, to how only the ones coming up with this scam will become very wealthy is wrong. And it will never be built, unless WE THE PEOPLE keep feeding it for the next 20 years.

24 people like this
Posted by TooMuchMoney
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 9, 2016 at 11:34 am

Hyperbole or not, I agree with Ben.
Quote: price tag dipping from $67.6 billion two years ago to $64.2 billion
WOW! a drop of, lets see, 4%
ON a system that is how many 100's of percents over the initial cost projections? The bond measure may not have said so explicitly, but proponents inferred that the $9B would be enough to get significant portions completed. 9 x 7 = 63 ... so the current estimated cost is SEVEN TIMES what we were lead to believe it would be. WE DON'T HAVE THE MONEY! We (the citizens of this state) CANNOT AFFORD THAT DEBT, nor can our children. And the US government is not going to bail this out.

Yes, I want fewer cars and less emissions and greener pastures, but this is not the best place to be putting our money.

7 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2016 at 11:40 am

@Travesty....unlikely to change now that the judge has ruled. The only way to prevent things like this from happening in the future is to vote out the progressive left wing liberals and vote in some fiscal conservatives.

6 people like this
Posted by Travesty
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 9, 2016 at 12:05 pm

That's negative thinking. I cannot believe there is not a way to stop this runaway train.

It's a bad idea, and driven by ego and pork. It will do real harm to our state.

It may be that there is some very powerful hidden agenda driving this, like Mexican drug money, but I've only seen the usual "Look how much money we are controlling!" political theatrics.

We ought to be able to keep a leash on that.

9 people like this
Posted by Pumpy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Time for a new Proposition.

9 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2016 at 2:21 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I have asked our representives in Sacramento to either propose legislation stopping the the HSR, or a proposition, or tell me how to support opposition to the HSR. I suggest everyone opposed send email or phone Rich Gordon and Jerry Hill with their comments.
"Please sponsor a constitutional amendment (Proposition) to defund the High Speed Rail Agency and dissolve the organization. The HSR is a financial white elephant the State cannot afford. It has evolved from its original form (for which I voted) into a monster that should be killed.
If you cannot sponsor a proposition to kill the HSR, please tell me how I can support an effort to kill it.
Stan Hutchings"

9 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 9, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Anybody who opposes HSR is free to mount an initiative campaign to overturn Prop 1A. State Constitution requires initiatives to be overturned by initiatives. Something like 500,000 signatures need to be gathered and confirmed. All the folks who are invested will contribute to fight the roll back initiative. Probably already too late for November 2016, and by November 2018, more progress will have been made, making roll back less likely. Like many who were initially skeptical, I am now on-board, so don't come knocking, don't ask for money, but otherwise, Have At it!

4 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2016 at 4:08 pm

Stan...I believe Rich Gordon and Jerry Hill are PRO High Speed Rail. May be an exercise in futility. I agree with you 100% on trying to kill it.

6 people like this
Posted by Uh-Oh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Jerry Hill and his acolyte, Corey Wolbach, are both PRO HSR. Rich Gordon is seemingly less committed, perhaps could be swayed

6 people like this
Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm

It was easy to see this coming. Judge Kenny is a tool for HSR. Between Kenny, Brown and Feinstein, whose husband's construction company stands to benefit mightily from HSR, the fix is in.

When the next drought hits California as will eventually happen, we can take comfort that a handful of travelers can get between S.F. and L.A. in a hurry (but not as fast as air travel) rather than having spent all that money on something frivolous like water management projects. Judge Kenny's ruling buys a lot of time for HSR, making it even harder to halt the project.

I predict those multi-billion-dollar trains will be largely empty if and when HSR ever gets going, not jam-packed with fare-paying passengers as the HSR political machine wants us to belive. CA voters were suckers for passing this thing in 2008.

Note: there was NO trial. Judge Kenny unilaterally threw the case out.

Like this comment
Posted by Cost Overrun
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 20, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Cost Overrun is a registered user.

Interesting article in NY Times on similar project in Hawaii.

Web Link

Interesting how they are so far into it, they cannot back out, regardless of cost. Awful.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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