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Bullet train survives legal challenge as judge tosses lawsuit over bond funds

Bullet train survives legal challenge as judge tosses lawsuit over bond funds
The San Joaquin River Viaduct, under construction, is part of the California bullet train project. (California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The California bullet train project can continue to draw on a bond approved by voters in 2008 after a Superior Court judge on Thursday rejected a civil suit that sought to block the use of those funds.

The decision was crucial for the project. Though only 12% of the project’s cost estimate, the bond provides the bulk of the money for the construction underway in the Central Valley.

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In several prior cases, state courts have rejected efforts to cripple the project, impose injunctions or send the bond measure back to voters.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi issued the final decision after putting out a tentative ruling last week that found a 2016 piece of legislation did not fundamentally alter the project or redefine restrictions contained in the bond act.

The case, brought by almond farmer John Tos, Kings County and other groups, asserted that the legislation, which clarified the original $9-billion high-speed rail bond, was an unconstitutional modification of a voter-approved act. The case centered on Assembly Bill 1889’s attempt to clarify the meaning of the bond measure’s requirement that any expenditures fund projects that would be “suitable and ready” for high-speed trains.

The plaintiffs argued that the Legislature violated legal precedent that the state Constitution requires voters to approve any change in the use of bond dollars. The state argued that the legislation did not change the project and merely altered the bond measure’s language.

Sueyoshi wrote that neither the bond proposition nor ballot materials for voters defined the term “suitable and ready,” so it was “properly subject to clarification by the Legislature through AB 1889.”

Stuart Flashman, attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the decision was “very disappointing and frustrating” and that he would have to discuss it with the plaintiffs “before making any decisions about next steps.”

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