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Stopped In Its Tracks? Or Not?

We suppose they'll keep working as long as their checks clear.

Nov 27, 2013

The people who support high-speed rail in California call themselves visionaries. Those opposed call the visionaries delusional. Some of us, although opposed to this project, think of ourselves as visionaries as well. We just have a different vision. And we have nothing against high-speed rail. We have the vision to see ourselves sitting on the high-speed train, our laptops plugged in for the under 3-hour ride from SF to LA relaxing instead of getting all worked up in our cars on the highway. But, then our vision sees ourselves in the train station in LA and wonder what we'll do next. We have escaped the easiest part of the trip, the I-5 straight shot without a lot of traffic, but now must rent a car and fight the worst traffic in the country. We admit it's better if you're going to SF where you can actually get around with public transit, but in LA we don't have a vision, we have a nightmare. And we still don't know what it's going to cost. Any guesses?

But, anyway, getting to the main point of this commentary as hinted at in the title: Is California's high-speed rail stopped in its tracks? Or Not? Technically speaking, it's not. The judge did not stop the project in its tracks. He did say they have to specify the source of their funding for the first 300-mile stratch, not just the first 30. There is no money at this point in time and none we can see, but we don't necessarily think California high-speed rail officials will let this 'minor' funding problem derail their dream. They did, however, admit it was a 'setback', their most modest statement to date. We suppose they'll keep working as long as their checks clear.

The Sacramento Bee editorial blamed all this on a 'small group of individuals determined' to stop the project. They say it will only delay things for months. But, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial, "this means construction can’t start unless the state finds $25 billion or more in solid financing — which is highly unlikely given a ban on revenue guarantees to investors." They conclude their editorial with "If Jerry Brown won’t take Richard (CHSR Board Chairman Dan Richard) to the woodshed, then it’s time for some senior Democratic leader to take Brown to the woodshed." We won't hold our breath. We are busy envisioning a project with real funding.

 

Judge stops bullet train in its tracks

By Juliet Williams, Associated Press


A Sacramento judge on Monday tore up California's funding plans for its bullet train project in separate orders that could force the state to spend months or years redrawing its plans for the $68 billion rail line.


Judge Michael Kenny rejected a request from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to sell $8 billion of the $10 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2008, saying there was no evidence it was "necessary and desirable" to start selling the bonds when a committee of state officials met last March.


He said the committee was supposed to act as "the ultimate 'keeper of the checkbook'" for taxpayers, but instead relied on a request from the high-speed rail authority to start selling bonds as sufficient evidence to proceed.


In a separate lawsuit, Kenny ordered the rail authority to redo its $68 billion funding plan before continuing construction, a process that could take months or years. He had previously ruled that the authority abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law. The judge said the state failed to identify "sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible."Proposition 1A, which voters approved in 2008, required the rail authority to specify the source of the funding for the first operable segment of the high-speed rail line — a 300 mile stretch — and have all the necessary environmental clearances in place. Kenny had said the agency did not comply with either mandate in approving the start of construction from Madera to Fresno, about 30 miles.


"The court said, look, you've only got 28 miles with completed environmental clearances. I order that you have to have 300 miles of environmental clearances," said Michael Brady, an attorney for Central Valley residents who had sued to halt the project. "It's taken them 5 years to do 28 miles, so how long will it take them to do 300 miles?"


Still, Kenny stopped short of blocking the project altogether, and rail authority officials characterized Monday's rulings as a setback rather than a fatal blow.


"Like all transformative projects, we understand that there will be many challenges that will be addressed as we go forward in building the nation's first high-speed rail system," authority board Chairman Dan Richard said in a written statement.

 

The rail authority had argued that it has already updated its funding plan and that it intends to spend $3.2 billion in federal money before tapping the state bonds. It also argued that only the state Legislature could intervene to stop the project.


The plaintiffs had also asked Kenny to block spending of the federal funds and rescind construction contracts, including a $1 billion deal signed this fall, but the judge declined to do so on Monday.


According to the state treasurer's office, California has already issued more than $705 million in Proposition 1A bonds, about $400 million for high-speed rail and about $305 million for related rail-improvement projects that could eventually be connected.

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