State asks Supreme Court to Set Aside Trial Court Rulings Stalling High-Speed Rail

Governor Jerry Brown has asked the California Supreme Court to step in and prevent two recent lower court rulings from derailing construction of the state’s bullet train. The state sent a direct request to the California Supreme Court because the normal appeals process, it claims, would take too long given the time-sensitive nature of the project and its funding. The request took the form of a petition for extraordinary writ of mandate and application for temporary stay.

In the first Superior Court case, Tos, et al. v. California High-Speed Rail Authority, et al., Sacramento Superior Court Case No. 34-2011-00113919, the trial court refused to validate approximately $8.6 billion in bonds because it found no evidence that issuing the bonds was “necessary and desirable.” This ruling, the state argues in its petition, will disrupt the state’s ability to finance the high-speed rail system as well as other projects funded with general obligation bonds. Furthermore, the ruling will destroy the state’s ability to use the bond validation statutes to obtain speedy and final determinations of validity.

In the second Superior Court Case, High Speed Rail Authority, et al. v. All Persons Interested, Sacramento Superior Court Case No. 34-2013-00140689, the trial court directed the High Speed Rail Authority to rescind and re-adopt a preliminary funding plan intended for the Legislature’s consideration in deciding whether to appropriate bond proceeds to build the project. The state argues that this ruling “compels an idle act” by requiring the Authority to re-do an appropriation plan that has already been enacted.

The trial court’s approach to these issues, the state argues, “cripples government’s ability to function.” The rulings also “thwart the intent of the voters and the Legislature to finance the construction of a high-speed rail.” The petition notes that both decisions are “effectively unreviewable on appeal” given the timeframe; the Authority is faced with either pursuing appeals that will exacerbate delays and increase costs, or else attempt to move the project forward on the trial court’s terms. The state termed this a Hobson’s choice – i.e., not a real choice.

Despite these complaints, state officials assured Washington lawmakers that the project will stick to its planned timetable, with construction in the Central Valley slated to begin later this year. But if the trial court’s rulings are not overturned, officials warned, the project would take longer to build than voters and the Legislature intended, and future funding would be jeopardized.