High Speed Rail Opponents Scramble for New Legal Strategy
After being dealt a major blow by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Tim Frawley, the Merced and Madera County farmers who are trying to stop the high speed rail project are licking their wounds and trying to decide whether their lawsuit has any viable future.
Judge Frawley indicated he was inclined to side with the California High Speed Rail Authority and believed that they “acted reasonably and in good faith” in their environmental reviews. But that isn’t stopping the opposition:
“We’re not going to give up; we’re not going to let these guys just roll over us,” said Kole Upton, a Chowchilla farmer and member of two organizations that sought to stop work by the California High-Speed Rail Authority until their lawsuit is heard next spring….
The judge’s remarks “were not lost on us,” said Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau. “We’re looking at it as a positive thing because we have an opportunity to assess our merits, and how often do you get to do that in a lawsuit?”
While not tipping her organization’s hand, “we will not be pursuing the same strategy going forward,” she said. “The Farm Bureau has made a commitment to see the case through because we believe the merits are so strong.”
But Raudabaugh said that if the Farm Bureau had known that the start of construction would be delayed to at least July — by which time the legal challenge may already be decided — “we never would have spent tens of thousands of dollars on the legal work; we would never have made that strategic decision” to seek an injunction.
The article by Tim Sheehan of the Fresno Bee also includes quotes from Kings County farmers who are in the early stages of their own anti-HSR lawsuit. They plan to file once the EIR is approved for that section of the project, and the loss suffered by their allies further north doesn’t appear to be giving the Kings County folks any second thoughts either.
Yet it’s not clear how any of these anti-HSR forces will prevail in the courts. The victory for the CHSRA in Judge Frawley’s court earlier this month was just the latest in an unbroken string of victories for high speed rail in the courts. The worst that has happened is that judges have found minor technical errors in previous environmental reports that the Authority was able to go back and correct without it impeding the project’s progress. Even in those cases, the primary claims made by HSR opponents were outright rejected by the courts.
Of course, HSR opponents aren’t going to the courts because they have a strong legal case. They’re going to the courts because they have no other options left to them to stop the project. Voters signaled their support of the project in 2008, and nobody has stepped up to fund an effort to put the project back on the ballot (and not for lack of trying). Even if a repeal vote were scheduled for the November 2014 ballot, construction would already be under way. The State Legislature also showed its support of the project earlier this summer, and with Democrats winning a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature – especially as anti-HSR State Senators Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal are termed out and as HSR heroes like Cathleen Galgiani are elected to the State Senate – the Legislature will not be in any mood to give the farmers what they want. So they turn to the courts, only to find they have no case.
The conclusion is obvious – the high speed rail project is not going to be stopped. Farmers who oppose it need to accept that reality and begin working with the Authority and their local governments to ensure their needs are met in a cooperative rather than an adversarial fashion. They shouldn’t be wasting their money on lawsuits that are doomed to fail.