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Court: High-speed rail ballot measure was not followed

This editorial is from the San Jose Mercury News:

Finally, a judge officially recognizes what has been obvious for years: The bullet train plan has failed to meet criteria set in the ballot measure voters passed five years ago.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny's 16-page ruling issued Friday exposes the fiction perpetuated by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Kenney now has to decide what to do about a project that is nothing like what voters approved in 2008.

The ballot proposition authorized bonds to cover part of the cost of a high-speed rail line linking major metropolitan areas of the state. It said money had to be identified and environmental reviews completed before the authority could authorize expenditures.

Kenny concludes the authority failed to clear either hurdle for the first segment. It “abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law.” While the lawsuit before Kenny involved a system and overall funding plan before the one now in place, the principles he ruled on have not changed. The ballot proposition was a bait and switch.

Voters were promised a system from San Diego to the Bay Area and Sacramento at a cost of $45 billion. Today, the project re-envisioned as a system partly “blended” with local transit optimistically stands at $69 billion and would run only between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Anticipated ticket prices have increased more than 50 percent, ridership projections have been cut by more than half, the opening date has been pushed back nine years to 2029, and the two-hour-and-40-minute voter-mandated travel time from San Francisco to Los Angeles remains doubtful.

The authority has yet to line up private-sector money needed for the project to pencil out, and continued federal funding is highly questionable, given the political environment in Washington.

The plan is a financial wreck. Polls show voters would not pass it today.

The first planned segment would stretch from Fresno to just north of Bakersfield, but that would be of little use unless the line is extended either north to San Jose or south to the San Fernando Valley.

Kenny ruled that the measure voters approved required the authority to line up money for a “usable segment” before starting work — “to identify sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible, but instead were reasonably expected to be actually available when needed.” This was not the case.

As for environmental review, Kenny concluded that also should have been completed for the entire usable segment before approval of the spending plan.

It was not.

Having found that the authority abused its discretion, Kenny next will decide what to do about it. The answer: Apply the brakes.

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