Bakersfield drops high-speed rail lawsuit
As 2015 approaches, California’s high-speed rail project keeps barreling down the track. On Dec. 19, the city of Bakersfield dropped its lawsuit against construction. The city’s settlement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority stipulated, among other things:
“The city has met with the HSRA to identify a locally-generated potential alignment alternative for an area within the Section extending from approximately north of Seventh Standard Road in Kern County to Oswell Street in the City of Bakersfield….”
The above map (bigger version here) shows the change in the route in Bakersfield, from the purple line to the green line.
The settlement also mentioned the project still is being challenged by “six other petitioners.” They are:
- Kern County;
- Kings County, Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability and the Kings County Farm Bureau;
- City of Shafter;
- Coffee Brimhall, a development company;
- The Bakersfield First Free Will Baptist Church;
- Dignity Health.
In exchange for dropping the case, the CHSRA reopened the study of a new alignment that will be less damaging to the city of Bakersfield and will promote more public engagement. In essence, the settlement reopens a previously project-level environmental impact report and study the CHSRA board certified on May 7.
Under the settlement, the CHSRA has the right to continue with the original train route. But Bakersfield retains the right to sue again if the same damaging route ultimately is selected.
According to settlement highlights released by the city of Bakersfield (full document is below), the CHSRA agreed:
- To develop a conceptual alignment that generally parallels the Union Pacific Railroad through downtown Bakersfield with a station generally located in the area of F Street and Golden State Avenue;
- Work with Bakersfield to co-sponsor public workshops;
- Work with with local property owners impacted by the alignment to address those impacts;
- When the conceptual alignment is refined, in good faith evaluate the new alignment along with the route that was previously certified by the CHSRA;
- Agree not to pursue additional design work or expend funds or approve or construct the previously selected route while the study is being completed;
- When the study is complete and the CHSRA is ready to decide on the alignment and station location, it will meet in Bakersfield;
- Agree not to exclusively rely on its prior certification of the hybrid alignment to approve the ultimate alignment and station location in the city.
Surface Transportation Board
As CalWatchdog.com reported last week, “the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled in favor of the CHSRA in a dispute over whether the STB’s authority to green-light the project takes precedence over the California Environmental Quality Act.” The CHSRA wanted, and got, construction stoppage off the table as a CEQA remedy – at least for now, pending actions in the other lawsuits.
The San Jose Mercury News reported the CHSRA-Bakersfield legal negotiations pre-dated the STB ruling. However, Recital H in the new agreement stipulated:
“HSRA asserts that the STB Order deprives the Sacramento Superior Court of jurisdiction over the CEQA and related causes of action in the Bakersfield Lawsuit, as well as in the related Lawsuits. The City disagrees with HSRA’s assertion concerning the effect of the STB Order.”
And “Section 4.5 Waivers” of the agreement reads:
“The City agrees it will not challenge, contest or appeal the STB Order in any way, including but not limited to via the STB itself or via any other court, board or tribunal.”
So the STB ruling certainly was part of the legal atmosphere surrounding the last days of negotiations.
Bakersfield also agreed it will not file a National Environmental Quality Act lawsuit or challenge funding prior to the study of the alternate alignment.
In sum, Bakersfield gains a couple of things from the agreement. It gets a breather from the controversy that will follow the STB decision. It gains a fresh look at a less damaging rail alignment. And in engages its local community, while retaining the right to file another lawsuit if it doesn’t like the final outcome.
The CHSRA gets one of seven lawsuits off the train table.
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