High-speed rail lawsuit will settle bond issue once and for all 

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is using a legal maneuver to shield itself from future lawsuits over its bond allocation. This is a wise move that will keep this important project moving ahead.

The lawsuit, unveiled last week in Sacramento Superior Court, would force anyone who takes issue with the legality of the bond issuance to argue his or her case during a yet-to-be scheduled hearing at which the state Attorney General’s Office will defend the authority, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Dan Richard, the chairman of the authority’s board of directors, told The San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday that the move is meant to validate the action of issuing bonds all at once in one hearing instead of having lawsuits endlessly drag out in courts across the state. Once the matter is settled, no one would be able to sue over these bonds again.

While some might argue that this move by the authority is an attempt to silence opponents of the project, the truth is that the legal tactic, which has been used by other municipalities over bond issuances, will give opponents a very specific time window during which they can argue their cases before a judge. The controversial project seems certain to face many other lawsuits as it moves forward — especially over land acquisitions and environmental impact reports — so it makes sense that officials would want to resolve the legality of the bonds issued for construction of a segment of Central Valley rail line and then move on to other issues.

Richard, who spoke about the project at the Commonwealth Club of California on Wednesday, did not shy away from talking about why the project has become such a lightning rod in the past few years. But he also was blunt about why California needs high-speed rail, and he is right. As he points out, the state’s population is expected to grow dramatically in the next few generations, and smart transportation and land-use choices will be necessary for the state to accommodate all this growth. High-speed rail should be a central intersection of both issues. It is worth an investment now into a rail system that can move people in the future without generating more carbon emissions.

A lot still needs to be settled when it comes to this high-speed rail project, which is the first of its kind in the United States. But the larger good that will come from this project once it is finished will far outweigh the short-term issues that must be overcome. As with any large-scale project — and this is one of the largest in California history — there will be negative impacts, and the authority must work to mitigate those to the fullest extent. Worthwhile discussions remain to be had about course alignment and station locations, but the bond issue should be settled quickly so those more important discussions about the project can continue.

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