Ag Today December 22, 2016

Taking the business pulse: Kings County renews HSR battle


Kings County is again at odds with the California High Speed Rail Authority, joining a lawsuit filed Dec. 12 in Superior Court of California in Sacramento that would block the Authority from using Prop 1A monies to help build the Central Valley line. That includes about 30 miles through Kings County.

Kings County first sued to stop the Authority back in 2011 and only dropped their suit in March of this year after losing several rounds in court. A second suit is on appeal.

The new lawsuit claims a measure passed by the legislature – AB 1889 – is unconstitutional. Kings County Counsel Colleen Carlson explains “The latest lawsuit is for Declaratory Relief. Essentially asking the judge to declare whether AB 1889 and high speed rail’s application of it, are unconstitutional because it (AB 1889) changes Proposition 1A without the vote of the people.” She adds that farmers and other citizens had come before the county board of supervisors, asking supervisors to “do everything they can to protect them.”

The suit is asking the court to approve a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction preventing CHSRA from expending any public funds toward the approval of a pending Authority funding plan.

Stuart Flashman, an Oakland-based attorney representing project opponents, announced at this month’s CHSRA board meeting that he’s filing suit, claiming the plans don’t comply with Proposition 1A. Flashman sued on behalf of Kings County, the San Mateo County town of Atherton, three nonprofit groups and four private citizens.

Authority spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley says, “We are in the business of building high-speed rail in California, putting people to work and investing in our future. Our opponents are in the business of filing lawsuits, delaying the project and raising the cost of the program at the expense of the taxpayers.”

CHSRA wants to use a mix of federal funds, state cap-and-trade funds and Prop 1A to construct the project that includes 118 miles through the Central Valley.The lawsuit claims Prop 1A requires a “usable segment” but that the Central Valley line being built now does not qualify.

The lawsuit says “On or about December 8, 2016, CHSRA released to the public two draft second Funding Plans, one for what it called the “Central Valley Segment” (“CV Segment”) and one for what it called the “San Francisco to San Jose Peninsula Corridor” (“SF-SJ Corridor”). The CV Segment is defined in its Funding Plan as extending from approximately adjacent to the Madera Amtrak station to Poplar Avenue in Shafter. It would include two stations, Fresno and Kings/Tulare, and would include electrification. This segment had previously been identified in the Revised 2012 Business Plan as the Initial Construction Section, and had not been called a usable segment.”

“The Funding Plan asserts that, when completed, the CV Segment would be suitable and ready for high-speed train operation. However, the Funding Plan does not propose any commercial operation of this segment for high-speed rail passenger service, but only as a “test track.” The Funding Plan also indicated that, if completion of the (Initial Operating System) IOS was delayed, the CV Segment could, with additional capital outlay, be utilized by Amtrak for its San Joaquin service.”

The CHSRA says they are ready to use Prop 1A monies. CEO Jeff Morales told the Bee a few days ago.“We’ve been using federal funds on the program to date, and we are advancing rapidly through them”.

“We need to get the bond funds in place to continue moving forward, and we’re at a point now where we can meet all of the requirements of Proposition 1A.”

The Authority now owns 996 agricultural parcels in its possession out of 1,614 needed for three construction areas in the Central Valley. “We are very confident that we are complying with all of the requirements of the law and moving forward as intended,” he said. “We do expect a lawsuit, but we do expect to prevail.”California Farm Bureau contributed to this story.