Judge intends to permit California high-speed rail funding

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A judge said Tuesday that he intends to reject the latest court challenge to California's $64 billion high-speed rail project, ruling that recent changes fall within what voters approved in 2008.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei said in a tentative order that he expects to dismiss the lawsuit by Kings County and other opponents targeting the plan to eventually link Los Angeles and San Francisco with a bullet train.

Cadei plans a hearing on Wednesday before making a final decision.

The California High Speed Rail Authority has won a series of legal battles, allowing the project to continue moving forward even though long-term funding remains uncertain.

The opponents' lawsuit aims to block the state from spending about $1.25 billion raised from bonds sold last week.

The lawsuit challenges AB1889, which was signed into law last year by high-speed rail proponent Gov. Jerry Brown. It changed previous laws to allow money from high-speed rail bonds to be spent on the electrification of 55 miles of track from south of San Jose to San Francisco.

The lawsuit says the change is beyond what California voters approved in 2008 when they agreed to nearly $10 billion in high-speed rail funding. Opponents argue that only voters can make the change.

"The voters were informed that the bond funds may be used for a broad array of purposes," Cadei wrote. "The stated goal remains the construction of a high-speed train system."

Attorney Stuart Flashman said he will argue Wednesday that Cadei misinterpreted opponents' legal argument.

"Basically he threw the case out," said  Flashman, who sued on behalf of Kings County, the town of Atherton and  several residents and organizations.  "We think this is about what the Legislature did. We think that what they did in enacting AB1889 was unconstitutional."

Lawmakers and the California High Speed Rail Authority said the bill was merely clarifying legislation that authorized $1.1 billion for transit improvements at both ends of the high-speed rail project.

Authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley declined comment until Cadei enters a final order.

A spokesman for California's state treasurer has said the legal challenge didn't harm last week's bond sale, which produced yields that would be expected under current market conditions.

The bond sale was allowed because plaintiffs in the biggest lawsuit challenging the high-speed rail project lost their case last year and decided not to appeal.

Flashman said the sale of the bonds didn't matter because the lawsuit aims to prevent the state from spending any of the money.

Opponents are promising future court challenges if the current lawsuit fails.

The project's future also remains uncertain because it relies on significant federal funding, and the Republican-controlled Congress does not support the project.

Private money also is needed but none has been secured yet.