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Judge: State's high-speed rail violates initiative

SACRAMENTO — A Sacramento County judge dealt a major blow to California's high-speed rail project Friday, ruling that the agency overseeing the bullet train failed to comply with the financial and environmental promises made to voters when they approved initial funding for the project five years ago.

Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny said the California High-Speed Rail Authority "abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law" and has failed to identify "sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible."

Yet he declined to immediately halt funding for the project, saying it was not clear that he had the discretion to do so and he will hold another hearing to determine what happens next. A date has not yet been set.

The 2008 initiative, Proposition 1A, required the rail authority to specify where the funding would come from for the first operable segment of high-speed rail and have all the environmental clearances in place. Kenny said the agency did not comply with either of those mandates, but Proposition 1A appears to leave it up to lawmakers to decide whether the funding plan is sufficient to warrant funding.

The office of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has championed the project, directed inquiries to the rail authority. Dan Richard, the Brown-appointed chairman of the authority's board, said work on the project will continue until the judge determines the remedy.

In the meantime, he said the Legislature's financial appropriation remains valid.

"We take our commitment to Proposition 1A seriously and continue to work towards developing a high-speed rail project that benefits all Californians," he said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Central Valley landowners and the Kings County Board of Supervisors argued in their 2011 lawsuit that the $68 billion high-speed rail plan did not meet the promises made to voters when they approved selling $10 billion in bonds for it.

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