Chowchilla and CHSRA Settle Lawsuit
Court rulings have consequences. After Chowchilla’s lawsuit against the California High Speed Rail Authority met a frosty reception in a Sacramento judge’s courtroom back in November, the city appears to have reconsidered and has agreed to a settlement with the Authority:
The rail authority mollified Chowchilla leaders by agreeing to consider the city’s concerns about what former Mayor David Alexander once called a “spaghetti bowl” of route options in and around the city. In addition, the rail authority will cover up to $300,000 of Chowchilla’s legal fees associated with the lawsuit once the planning for the route around the area is done….
In the settlement documents, the rail authority recognizes Chowchilla’s fears about two specific routes: An east-west connection along Avenue 24, and a north-south line that runs along Highway 99 and the Union Pacific freight tracks.
The Avenue 24 option would span an area identified for annexation by the city for commercial, entertainment and industrial development, according to court documents. A north-south route along Highway 99 would bisect Chowchilla, creating a barrier dividing the city. A route along the highway also would be the most expensive option for the rail authority to build, costing nearly $500 million more than the second-costliest alternative, court records suggest.
If the rail agency adopts an alignment that does not include a Highway 99/Union Pacific or Avenue 24 alignment and the city sues again, Chowchilla would receive no settlement from the state.
Of course, the Highway 99 freeway itself already bisects Chowchilla, as do the Union Pacific freight tracks, but whatever, a settlement’s a settlement. And it appears to be a good one too, preserving the Authority’s route options while giving Chowchilla a face-saving recognition of their concerns. And the Authority’s willingness to cover $300,000 in the city’s legal fees doesn’t hurt either.
The Authority would likely have prevailed at trial this coming April, but they preferred to take Chowchilla up on their offer to work together. The settlement is a sign that yes, the Authority really does want to work closely with local cities and residents along the route, contrary to the claims of project opponents.
Let’s hope this is just the first of several settlements of the various lawsuits that are out there.