Judge Rules Bullet-Train Violates the Ballot Initiative that Created It

Monday, August 19, 2013

Civil War photographer Matthew Brady used to pitch his fledgling technology with a warning to those who would dawdle taking him up on his offer: “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”

A similar thought may be running through the minds of California high-speed rail proponents who, fighting to get the first tracks laid and the project visibly underway before a 2017 federal funding deadline arrives, were dealt another blow Friday by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge.

Judge Michael P. Kenny ruled that the agency overseeing the bullet-train “abused its discretion” by failing to comply with funding and environmental review requirements in the 2008 ballot initiative that authorized the state to sell $9.9 billion in bonds for its construction. The judge said the state has failed to say how it is going to finance the cost of the route’s first extended leg, around $31 billion, and has not received the required environmental clearances.

The cost of the entire project is estimated to be $68 billion and rising. The federal government has sort of signed on to paying a big chunk of that, but the independent state Legislative Analyst’s Office warned in 2011 that additional funding assumed in a 2009 business plan was “highly uncertain” and, more specifically, “Federal funding assumptions appear unrealistic.”

Judge Kenny stopped short of stopping the project in its speculative tracks. But he scheduled a hearing to determine how the state might remedy the situation.   

In the meantime, the state is moving ahead with purchasing the necessary rights-of-way for the train. The first segment will be 130 miles through the Central Valley, from Fresno to Madera, and landowners are just now learning what it means for them.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week on the imminent demise of a popular Fresno eatery, Angelo’s Drive-In, one of the first 106 properties being pursued by the state. The Cambodian immigrants who have owned the place since 2004—it dates back to the 1950s—were offered $120,000. The owners, Kay Lim and Ken Chea, say it isn’t enough money to start a new business.  

Their deadline is more firm than the bullet-train’s. Lim and Chea have until September 15 to get out.

–Ken Broder    


To Learn More:

Judge: California High-Speed Rail Authority Violates Initiative (by Juliet Williams, Associated Press)

Court Rules California Bypassed Requirements for Bullet-Train Process (by Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times)

Bullet Train Blows through Caution Signs; Next Stop D.C. (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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