California's High-Speed Rail Plan Wins Huge Court Victory

by | August 1, 2014 AT 10:50 AM

By Jessica Calefati

In a huge victory for Gov. Jerry Brown, a panel of appellate court judges Thursday affirmed the state's bullet train funding plan, paving the way for California to sell $8.2 billion in bonds it needs to construct the embattled San Francisco to Los Angeles rail line.

Opponents of the project argued that the state needed to show how it would pay for the $68 billion project before it begins construction, and with only a fraction of the money in hand, doing so would have been impossible.

A lower court late last year ruled in favor of the Kings County farmers and residents who filed suit against the state, but the 3rd District Court of Appeal's three-judge panel ordered Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kinney to vacate his decision.

"Substantial financial and environmental questions remain to be answered by the Authority," the appellate court judges wrote. "But those questions are not before us today."

In a decision the judges call "quite narrow," they found the High-Speed Rail Authority's finance committee acted properly last year when it voted to approve issuance of bonds.

They also refused to force the Legislature to rescind and redo a bullet train funding plan it approved several years ago that was at the heart of the opposition's case for killing the project.

"Because the Legislature appropriated bond proceeds following receipt of the preliminary funding plan approved by the Authority, the preliminary funding plan has served its purpose," the judges wrote.

Dan Richard, chairman of the state rail authority's board, welcomed the court's ruling, which state officials had said they expected would be released in August.

"The High-Speed Rail Authority has always been committed to building a modern high-speed rail system that will connect the state, precisely as the voters called for when they passed Proposition 1A," Richard said. "The system will be a clean, fast, non-subsidized service, and will create jobs and enable smart, sustainable growth while preserving farmland and habitat."

Hanford farmer John Tos and resident Aaron Fukuda, who filed the suit over the funding plan on behalf of a group called California Citizens for High Speed Rail Accountability, could not immediately be reached for comment on the ruling or whether they plan to appeal.

(c)2014 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)