SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Dealing a setback to opponents of California's high-speed rail, a judge denied a lawsuit claiming that the $68 billion bullet train project violates restrictions imposed in the bond act approved by voters.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny did not say that the project is complying with restrictions, but rather said that the issue "is not ripe for review."
The ruling, released to the public Tuesday morning, involves a long-running lawsuit brought by Kings County and two Central Valley farmers against the California High Speed Rail Authority and others involved in the project. They argue that the state's plans violate Proposition 1A, a $9 billion bond act approved by voters in 2008 to help spur construction of a high-speed rail network in the state.
The Kings County plaintiffs say that a proposal to share tracks with the Caltrain system in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of a blended system was not included in the original ballot measure and does not comply with the bond act.
Kenny said in his ruling that although it appears the authority does not have sufficient evidence at this time to prove that the blended system can currently comply with all of the bond act requirements, "the authority may be able to accomplish these objectives at some point in the future."
The judge pointed out that the project is "an ongoing, dynamic, changing project" that hasn't even been fully funded yet.
"Although plaintiffs have raised compelling questions about future compliance, the Authority has not yet submitted a funding plan," so the issue of the project's compliance "is not ripe for review," Kenny said.
Similarly unripe for review are the Kings County plaintiffs' arguments that the train will not transport passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours, 40 minutes as advertised and that the authority has not proved that the high-speed rail system will be financially viable, the judge said.
Until the authority attempts to utilize bond act funds, "the financial viability and San Francisco-Los Angeles corridor designs remain in flux," Kenny said.
He added that "there are too many unknown variables, and in absence of a funding plan, too many assumptions that must be made as to what the authority's final decisions will be."
Plaintiffs' attorney Stuart Flashman said in an email to Courthouse News that his clients are disappointed in the ruling and that he thinks Kenny misconstrued Prop. 1A and the voters' understanding of what they were approving.
He did, however, call the ruling a "warning shot" to the high-speed rail authority.
"The ruling makes it clear that if the current system were measured against the requirements set by Prop. 1A, it would fail," Flashman said.
He added the High-Speed Rail Authority is likely aware that their system would not pass muster, and that is why no bonds are being used and no second funding plan has been submitted for approval.
"Sadly, if this ruling stands, the authority will continue to limp along on the very limited funds it now has available until it eventually runs out of money, without having constructed anything even faintly resembling a high-speed rail system," Flashman said. "The Legislature's refusal to pull the plug on this failing agency is a glaring example of the Legislature's financial irresponsibility."
Authority Board Chairman Dan Richard disagreed, and said that Kenny's ruling "confirms that we are indeed delivering a fast, modern and environmentally friendly high-speed rail system that meets the voter-approved requirements under Proposition 1A."
He added, "This 5-year lawsuit wasted taxpayer dollars and delayed implementation, but we are moving forward and redoubling our efforts to build this transformative, job-creating investment in California's future."
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