SACRAMENTO (AP) — The California Supreme Court decided Wednesday not to consider an appeal of a case brought by opponents of the state’s $68 billion bullet train project, delivering a crucial ruling that allows construction to go ahead as planned.
The justices rejected a request for a hearing on a lower court ruling that also allowed the nation’s first high-speed rail system and Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature transportation project to proceed.
Opponents had questioned whether the California High-Speed Rail Authority was complying with the terms of the ballot measure that funded the project.
The appellate court agreed there are legitimate legal concerns about whether the “high-speed rail project the California High-Speed Rail Authority seeks to build is the project approved by the voters” but said the arguments were brought too soon.
Plaintiffs from the Central Valley argued that the ruling in July by the 3rd District Court of Appeal undercut a century of legal precedent requiring the state to strictly comply with the intent of voters.
Proposition 1A, approved in 2008, promised voters that the state would identify funding for the first useable segment of the rail line and that it would have necessary environmental clearances done before starting construction.
The plaintiffs, Kings County and landowners in the Central Valley, successfully argued in Sacramento County Superior Court that the state failed on both counts, identifying only $6 billion of the estimated $26 billion needed for the first 130-mile segment, and failing to secure sufficient environmental approvals.
The court’s decision not to hear the appeal “bodes poorly for all kinds of tax measures that go on the ballot because voters are going to say ‘How do I know they’re going to do this, how can I trust what they say?’” plaintiffs’ attorney Stuart Flashman said Wednesday.
Dan Richard, chairman of the board that oversees the high-speed rail project, said in a written statement that the state will move aggressively to build the system.
Demolition work and construction testing has already begun around Fresno, one of the hubs on the first 28-mile stretch in the Central Valley.
The Sacramento County rulings last year prevented the sale of $8.6 billion in voter-approved bonds and created ongoing uncertainty about the project.
The judge also ordered the state to draft a new funding plan and seek more environmental clearances, but the requirement was overturned by the 3rd District Court of Appeal.
Wednesday’s decision concerns only one portion of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. In a second phase still before the Sacramento County judge, attorneys will argue that compromises made to cut the price mean the bullet train won’t be able to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes as promised in the ballot measure.