Lawyer's high-speed rail, Measure PP arguments much the same | June 14, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - June 14, 2013

Lawyer's high-speed rail, Measure PP arguments much the same

Much has been written about California's controversial high-speed rail system, a proposed $68 billion project that Gov. Jerry Brown but not many others are pushing to carry riders between Sacramento and Southern California at breakneck speeds. At one time, the rail line was planned to go through Livermore and Pleasanton to San Francisco but protests by both cities nixed that plan. Later, the routing was changed to a South Bay route from its main line in the Central Valley, a routing that has been challenged by Palo Alto and other Peninsula cities.

Now the Pleasanton connection is back with a lawsuit filed by Stuart Flashman, one of two attorneys representing Kings County plaintiffs who contend that plans to start building the rail line are not following the financing and environmental approvals California voters approved in a $10 billion bond under Proposition 1A in 2008 that was to provide kick-start funds. Central Valley farmers and local officials, represented by Flashman, claim the rail system could lead to financial disaster. For now, the project has been stopped pending the court's decision.

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 that, like Prop. 1A, was also approved by voters in 2008. And like the high-speed rail project, Measure PP is now languishing as Flashman and another attorney, Kristina Lawson of the San Francisco law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, decide whether to move forward on a suit contesting the legality of changes made to Measure PP since the public vote.

Flashman may have a point when it comes to "tinkering" with Measure PP by planners and council members, but joint discussions may dissuade the lawyers from filing a costly and time-consuming suit. But Flashman is clearly on the mark with his legal argument against the high speed rail system. In the suit, Kings County plaintiffs accuse the state of failing to have all the financing end environmental approvals for the initial phase in place before construction starts, which is planned for this summer. Without them, the state could end up with a train to nowhere, with farmers and others forced to sell their land to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for no good reason. Flashman argues that taxpayers could be funding a project that would end up leaving the state with 130 miles of rail that's unusable for anything except maybe to carry Amtrak trains a short distance.

Flashman and other attorneys involved in the court case are convinced that a financing plan delivered to the state Legislature in November 2011 fails to live up to Prop. 1A. They've asked Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny to rule that the Legislature's approval of money to begin construction is invalid and halt construction. The Sacramento Bee reports, however, that lawyers with the state Attorney General's office, representing the rail authority, argue that the funding plan is legal. Just because the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not satisfied is no reason to order a costly and time-consuming do-over. This sounds much like what the Pleasanton council and Measure PP advocates are saying about Flashman's threat of a lawsuit here.

The Sacramento judge has 90 days to render a decision on the rail authority suit. The Pleasanton council, also faced with Flashman's legal threat, has tabled its consideration of the issue indefinitely.


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