Appeals Court Vindicates CHSRA, Overturns Troublesome Lower Court Ruling
The summer of 2014 is the summer that high speed rail in California made its great comeback. First came the Legislature’s approval of spending cap-and-trade funds on the HSR project, ensuring billions of new dollars would flow to it and thus giving it a critical financial boost.
Now comes the long awaited ruling in the state’s appeal of last year’s decision that threatened to destroy the project entirely, the ruling that said the California High Speed Rail Authority had violated Proposition 1A by approving a funding plan that didn’t secure all the money it needed. Today the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court ruling and handed a huge legal victory to the CHSRA:
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 Third District Court of Appeal’s three-judge panel ordered Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kinney to vacate his decision….
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.
This is exactly what HSR proponents like myself said would happen after Judge Kenny made his obviously flawed ruling last fall. We pointed out that the court had no power to reverse the Legislature’s action authorizing the expenditure of the bond proceeds. The final arbiter on whether the preliminary funding plan was sufficient was the Legislature, not the courts, and the Legislature had pronounced that plan sufficient. The appeals court today found that logic was obvious and compelling.
It’s not clear yet whether Kings County and the other parties to this lawsuit will appeal to the California Supreme Court. But it’s hard to imagine them winning even if they did. The appeals court’s reasoning is solid and ironclad.
Presumably the appeals court ruling will allow the CHSRA to finally begin full-scale construction near Fresno. Demolition of property on the right-of-way has already started. We should see a proper groundbreaking and construction of new structures soon, perhaps by the end of summer.
There may be more lawsuits to come, but this one was the biggest threat to the project. With today’s ruling that threat has been neutralized. Combined with the cap-and-trade funds, the California HSR project has had an amazing few months of overcoming challenges. A better, more sustainable future lies ahead.