A Sacramento Superior Court judge Friday upheld his preliminary ruling that the California High-Speed Rail Authority can continue its environmental studies for the Peninsula to Central Valley portion of the planned statewide bullet train project.
Friday's ruling is the latest chapter in a lawsuit filed against the high-speed rail project by Menlo Park, Palo Alto and four conservation groups. At issue is the CHSRA's decision to run trains up to San Francisco via the Pacheco Pass and the Peninsula, rather than the Altamont Pass in the East Bay.
The Altamont Pass route would likely have high-speed trains using the Union Pacific railroad right-of-way that passes through Pleasanton.
On Thursday, Judge Michael Kenny issued a preliminary ruling on the matter. After hearing oral arguments from attorneys on both sides in a hearing Friday afternoon, Kenny reaffirmed his initial ruling that environmental studies under way for the project need not be halted while awaiting the court's final judgment on the lawsuit.
The cities and conservation groups had requested the stay of environmental work, contending that studying and investing money in a Pacheco Pass route would bias the CHSRA in the event the it is forced to re-valuate the merits of the Altamont Pass.
Stuart Flashman, the attorney representing the group, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon.
CHSRA attorneys argued that stays are only appropriate in cases where there is an imminent threat to the environment.
In a brief filed in advance of today's ruling, the high-speed rail legal team said, "these are studies, not bulldozers or shovels that could harm the physical environment."
CHSRA chief deputy director Carrie Pourvahidi said today's ruling is good news for California. Halting existing planning work would delay the project and create "an unnecessary threat to billions of dollars in federal stimulus funding and tens of thousands of jobs at a time when California desperately needs them," she said in a statement.
In November 2008, California voters approved $9.9 billion in bond money to jump-start the first phase of the project. When completed, the electrified high-speed rail system would connect San Francisco and Sacramento with Los Angeles and San Diego. The state has also applied for $4.7 billion in federal stimulus funds.
A final judgment on the case could come in the next few weeks, according to CHSRA attorneys.
The proposed Pacheco Pass route runs through Menlo Park and Atherton, and would use the existing Caltrain right-of-way. Residents in both cities have expressed opposition to having high-speed trains whizzing through the area.
That's the same argument of local residents and the Pleasanton City Council when the Altamont Pass route was under consideration two years ago. But later, the CHSRA chose the Pacheco Pass route as less costly and more efficient for connecting to the more heavily-populated centers of San Jose, San Francisco and the Pennsula.
In addition to Palo Alto and Menlo Park, the groups participating in the lawsuit are: the Planning and Conservation League; Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund; California Rail Foundation, and the BayRail Alliance.