A settlement agreement between the City of Bakersfield and California High Speed Rail Authority (“CHSRA”) has resulted in an eight mile reduction of the initial 130-mile segment of the high speed rail in part of the Central Valley.
Last December, CHSRA and the City of Bakersfield settled a lawsuit brought by Bakersfield city officials concerning the proposed route for the high speed rail running through the city. The 8-mile cut to which CHSRA and the City agreed will cause the rail to stop north of the City of Shafter instead of stopping at the outskirts of Bakersfield. CHSRA spokeswoman, Lisa Marie Alley, stated that the results of the settlement agreement will not cause a construction delay.
The settlement agreement also provides that the city and CHSRA will meet with local business owners, farmers and other stakeholders to consider new routes for the northern part of Bakersfield before the rail connects to the downtown high speed rail station. The deadline to reach an agreement for the new alignment is January 2016 (a date which cannot be extended unless both the city and CHSRA agree to an extension).
Residents and city officials in Bakersfield and Shafter are not the only ones unhappy with proposed high speed rail routes. Cities in California have been voicing their disapproval with certain routes proposed or selected for the high speed rail. Opposition has been on the rise in cities in Southern California as well as the Central Valley. Many of these cities are depending on CEQA in their battle against CHSRA’s selected routes.
Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority – a case currently before the California Supreme Court dealing with federal preemption of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – could affect the plans for high speed rail. While the case does not directly involve the high speed rail project, because the project could be impacted by the outcome of the case, representatives of the Farm Bureaus in Madera and Merced filed amicus curiae briefs in the case voicing their concerns to the Supreme Court.
Groups like the Farm Bureaus rely on CHSRA compliance with CEQA requirements in order to ensure CHSRA will deliver on the promises made to make up for environmental impacts caused by the construction and operation of the high speed rail project. CEQA regulations are significantly stricter than federal regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act. If the California Supreme Court finds that the federal National Environmental Policy Act trumps CEQA, it may allow CHSRA to evade accountability.
CHSRA has asked the Supreme Court for an extension to July 1st in order to file its own amicus brief in the Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority case. Oakland attorney Stuart Flashman, the attorney representing Kings County in a lawsuit against CHSRA, also filed an amicus brief arguing “that a state is not precluded from controlling its own rail project, and in this case, requiring CEQA compliance.”