Judge allows California high-speed rail project to proceed
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California judge allowed the state's bullet train project to go forward Wednesday but delayed a final ruling on a legal challenge asserting the state is not keeping its promises to voters.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei denied opponents' attempt to temporarily block the state from spending about $1.25 billion from the sale of $10 billion in bonds last week for the project intended to link Los Angeles and San Francisco with a bullet train.
He did not immediately rule on their underlying challenge to the $64 billion project after hearing arguments.
However, recent changes to the train plan detailed in the lawsuit fall within what voters approved in 2008, Cadei said, echoing the reasoning in his tentative decision issued Tuesday.
"It seems to me the initiative the voters had before them broadly authorized the funds," Cadei said during the hour-long hearing Wednesday. Recent changes by the state Legislature don't change the general intent of the ballot measure, the judge said.
"He's basically giving the Legislature carte blanche to change ballot measures after voters approved them," plaintiffs' attorney Stuart Flashman said after the hearing. "I think that's terrible."
Flashman said opponents are unlikely to amend their lawsuit even if Cadei gives them the opportunity to do so, and instead will try to win on appeal.
The lawsuit challenges AB1889, which was signed into law 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.
Flashman said only voters can make the change.
The California High Speed Rail Authority has won a series of legal battles, allowing the project to continue as long-term funding remains uncertain.
Lawmakers and the 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.
"The opponents are just against this project and they're finding any ways they can to stop it," Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail authority, said after the hearing. "The courts keep ruling in our favor, saying that we are complying with the law."