SACRAMENTO — A Sacramento judge on Monday tore up California's funding plans for its bullet train project in separate orders that could force the state to spend months or years redrawing its plans for the $68 billion rail line.
Judge Michael Kenny rejected a request from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to sell $8 billion of the $10 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2008, saying there was no evidence it was "necessary and desirable" to start selling the bonds when a committee of state officials met last March.
He said the committee was supposed to act as "the ultimate 'keeper of the checkbook'" for taxpayers, but instead relied on a request from the high-speed rail authority to start selling bonds as sufficient evidence to proceed.
In a separate lawsuit, Kenny ordered the rail authority to redo its $68 billion funding plan before continuing construction, a process that could take months or years. He had previously ruled that the authority abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law. The judge said the state failed to identify "sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible."
Proposition 1A, which voters approved in 2008, required the rail authority to specify the source of the funding for the first operable segment of the high-speed rail line — a 300 mile stretch — and have all the necessary environmental clearances in place. Kenny had said the agency did not comply with either mandate in approving the start of construction from Madera to Fresno, about 30 miles.
"The court said, look, you've only got 28 miles with completed environmental clearances. I order that you have to have 300 miles of environmental clearances," said Michael Brady, an attorney for Central Valley residents who had sued to halt the project. "It's taken them 5 years to do 28 miles, so how long will it take them to do 300 miles?"
Still, Kenny stopped short of blocking the project altogether, and rail authority officials characterized Monday's rulings as a setback rather than a fatal blow.