Several members of Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) attended the February 11, 2016 Sacramento County Superior Court hearing in Tos v. California High-Speed Rail Authority. From throughout the state, critics of the current high-speed rail project joined CCHSRA members in the courtroom to watch oral arguments in this pivotal lawsuit for the People of California.
Along with CCHSRA, John Tos and the County of Kings contend that the Authority has failed to comply with Proposition 1A. This is the ballot measure, approved by 53% of California voters in November 2008, that authorized the state to borrow $9.95 billion to start building the high-speed train system.
Attorneys Stuart Flashman and Mike Brady came to the hearing prepared to make this case for Mr. Tos and Kings County. They refuted many of the claims of the state attorneys representing the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Here are some of the arguments from Mr. Flashman and Mr. Brady:
- Prop 1A as presented to voters contains much more than just an authorization for the state to issue bonds. It sets specific criteria for the construction and operation of the system itself. For example, Prop 1A requires the train to be capable of traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes, with five minutes between each train.
- Authoritative studies and analyses (for example, from Caltrans) indicate that the mandates of 2 hour, 40 minute travel time and five minutes between trains cannot be achieved under the blended plan. And the slower and less frequent trains under the blended plan mean that ridership and revenue projects do not achieve the Prop 1A guidelines either.
- Studies and analyses produced for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to demonstrate compliance with Prop 1A are based on erroneous, unlikely, and untested assumptions.
- California High-Speed Rail was portrayed to voters as a dedicated track system, not a “blended” system in which the high-speed train shares track with commuter rails (Caltrain and Metrolink). There are no references to a blended system in the 2005 and 2008 Environmental Impact Reports related to the project. The 2012 legislative mandate for the system to share track with commuter rail was a novel development that surfaced after Prop 1A was enacted by voters.
- If the California legislature or the Authority wants to deviate from Prop 1A, they need to ask voters to authorize those changes. Prop 1A was a constitutional measure that cannot be altered by simple legislative action.
Here are some of the arguments from the California High-Speed Rail Authority:
- Like in Phase 1 of this lawsuit, it is premature to claim that Prop 1A guidelines can’t be met.
- The Authority was required to develop a blended approach by the legislature. This plan served the public by reducing the cost of Phase 1 from $98 billion to $68 billion.
- There is a lot of evidence in the administrative record showing that the Authority can meet the requirements of Prop 1A.
- The court needs to defer to the decisions of the experts of the agency working on the project.
- Parties to the lawsuit are inappropriately challenging experts.
- When the judge asked the Authority’s attorney what would happen if the court determined that the Authority could not fulfill the Prop 1A travel times, the attorney responded that it would be the fault of the legislature, not the Authority.
A ruling is expected in 60-90 days.
News Media Coverage
California High-Speed Rail: Landowners’ Lawsuit Goes Before Judge – Associated Press (via San Jose Mercury-News) – February 11, 2016
Kings County Opponents of High-Speed Rail Get Their Court Date – Fresno Bee – February 11, 2016
Lawsuit Contends the California Bullet Train Project Is Violating State Law – Los Angeles Times – February 12, 2016
Legal Challenge Could Freeze Billions In Funds For California’s Bullet Train – Capitol Public Radio (via KVPR – Valley Public Radio) – February 11, 2016
Videos from Court Hearing (courtesy of DerailHSR)