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California High-Speed Rail challenge will move forward

The first stage of construction on California’s high-speed rail is set to begin this summer, but the legal challenges aren’t going away anytime soon. Last week, a judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by Central Valley residents of Kings County to block construction will move forward as planned.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority had been trying to get the Kings County lawsuit lumped together with a separate “validation” lawsuit, where anyone opposed to the project can sue the Authority in one giant case.

In an effort to halt the construction slated to start in August, two Kings County residents –John Tos and Aaron Fukuda– are suing the Authority. They make a series of claims that the Authority is violating the voter-approved Proposition 1A, including the Authority doesn’t have the required matching funds to start construction, that they won’t be able to finish construction by the 2020, and that the system won’t be able to get a train from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes. All of these are required in the bill passed by the California Legislature to guide the Proposition 1A spending. 

Both Tos and Fukuda would be adversely affected by the high-speed rail line. Along the planned route, the rail would cross through Tos’s farm and Fukuda’s property. Under eminent domain, both would be compensated, but they claim it’s not enough. 

The Authority had originally pushed to combine this lawsuit with a different one, called a “validation” lawsuit, where anyone can add their names to the list of plaintiffs. The state had been getting so many challenges to its right to buy and sell the bonds necessary to fund the high-speed rail system, that back in March the Attorney General’s office decided to pursue an unusual legal solution. The state essentially preemptively sued anyone opposed to in the lawsuit “High-Speed Rail Authority v. All Persons Interested,” allowing anyone to join in on the action. But that lawsuit is going to take much longer to move forward (a similar lawsuit in San Jose lasted over a year), and John Tos and Aaron Fukuda didn’t want to wait that long. Last week, a judge allowed their case to move forward separately. The hearings will begin on May 31.