The decision was prompted by a 2011 lawsuit from residents of Kings County, who argued that the rail authority's funding plan did not comply with Proposition 1A, the 2008 measure that authorized $9 billion in state funds for the line. Stuart Flashman, one of two attorneys in the case who represents Central Valley farmers and local officials, claimed the rail system could lead to financial disaster. Coincidentally, Flashman is the same Oakland attorney whose threat of a lawsuit against the city of Pleasanton has also temporarily stopped further consideration by the City Council of Measure PP, a hillside protection ordinance. For now, the rail project has mercifully been stopped.
CNN's Anderson Cooper and Drew Griffin should be commended on their reporting of the high-speed rail boondoggle. According to Griffin, who interviewed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "so much of the money has been spent really making the old trains go a little bit faster." How much faster? About 10 minutes faster for an $800 million federal government investment. "I think people like the investments we're making," responded Secretary Lahood during the interview. "There is so much enthusiasm in America for high-speed rail."
But not so, according to Roger Aronoff, editor of Accuracy in Media. Here in California, especially, where cost overruns, such as for the Bay Bridge seismic retrofit project, loom large. Griffin said that there is only one true high-speed rail line actually envisioned in the entire U.S. and that's the California plan to build a 200 mile-an-hour train line. According to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, voters are now opposed to spending $68 billion on high-speed rail by a margin of 54% to 43%. The forces behind the project, in addition to Brown and supporters in the state Legislature, are the contractors, builders and consultants who stand to gain from the construction and are unchecked by policymakers with no real means to verify overly optimistic ridership models or stop construction once it has begun.
While Judge Kenny's decision may not stop the project for good, it could set up a new legal speed bump for the beleaguered rail authority. Last year, the authority won a razor-thin victory in Sacramento when the state Senate authorized the agency to tap into the first $2.6 billion in bond funding and to accept $3.3 billion in federal funding for the first segment of the project. The appropriation came by a single vote, with several Democrats joining every Republican in voting against the funding bill.
Even LaHood admits Obama's 25-year plan to extend high-speed train service to 80% of Americans will cost $500 billion, which means after six years, spending will have to increase to $24 billion a year. While this will please construction and engineering firms, the rest of us will get little other than the satisfaction of knowing our trains go as fast as those in France and China (though less than half as fast as planes). Aronoff calls the state's high-speed rail plan a "boondoggle." We agree.