HANFORD – Remember the legal battle that put Kings County on the map as a hotbed of anti-California High-Speed Rail Authority sentiment?
The effort faded off the public’s radar screen after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled in March 2016 that the project hadn’t yet violated requirements in Proposition 1A, the ballot measure California voters approved in 2008 that authorized $10 billion in bond money to help fund the project.
Kenny ruled that, because the Authority had yet to access the bulk of the bond money, the original lawsuit, filed in 2011 in Kings County Superior Court with Kings County as a plaintiff, was premature.
Now the effort is back, rejuvenated by a new lawsuit filed Dec. 13 that follows up on Kenny’s ruling.
The judge left open the possibility that Kings could renew its legal challenge once the Authority started tapping into the bulk of the Prop. 1A money.
The new suit comes after the Authority’s Board of Directors approved a financing plan last month for the Central Valley rail segment.
The plan calls for $2.69 billion in Prop. 1A bond money to be spent along with federal funding and state cap-and-trade funds.
The full funding mix is necessary to complete a 119-mile San Joaquin Valley section stretching roughly from Madera to a point north of Bakersfield.
Construction activity has so far centered in the Fresno area.
In Kings, the most visible sign of high-speed rail activity has been the demolition last year of several homes on Ponderosa Street off East Lacey Boulevard east of Hanford.
The 119-mile initial Valley segment is slated to pass through Kings County.
Hanford farmer John Tos is the lead plaintiff in the new lawsuit. Kings County, as represented by the county Board of Supervisors, is also listed as plaintiff.
Tos, along with former Hanford resident Aaron Fukuda, was one of the plaintiffs in the original 2011 suit.
“My only comment is [that] we’re in it for the long haul,” Tos said. “As far as we’re concerned, [the project] needs to be stopped, and the sooner the better.”
Plaintiff attorney Stuart Flashman called the new lawsuit “Tos 2.”
Flashman said the ripeness of the suit hinges on the Authority Board of Directors submitting the Valley segment financing plan to the state Director of Finance.
The plan hasn’t been submitted yet, according to Authority spokeswoman Toni Tinoco.
Tinoco said Tuesday that she expects the plan will be submitted this week.
Flashman said the new lawsuit is about whether the Authority can access the $2.6 billion in Prop. 1A money.
“We really can’t comment on pending litigation,” said Authority spokeswoman Annie Parker.
Flashman said he expects a relatively quick court process compared to the more than four years that elapsed from the time the original lawsuit was filed in 2011 to the time Kenny issued his ruling in March 2016.
Flashman estimated a decision could come in the next three months.
“It’s a purely legal [question],” he said. “There aren’t any factual issues here.”
Flashman said the lawsuit gives the plaintiffs the option of seeking a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to prevent the state from accessing the $2.6 billion while the lawsuit is in progress.
He said the plaintiffs haven’t decided whether to pursue that option yet. He said it will depend on how quickly the lawsuit is resolved.
Kings County Supervisor Joe Neves and others described the new lawsuit as the culmination of the county’s long legal battle against the project.
“I think we were just premature in our legal maneuvering,” Neves aid. “I don’t think we’re too far out of line with this recent [lawsuit].”
“We were told with the last decision that we were early,” said Kings County Supervisor Craig Pedersen. “Now that the Authority has started spending bond funds, the lawsuit is now applicable.”
Frank Oliveira, co-chairman of Hanford-based Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability, praised the renewal of Kings’ legal fight.
“Everybody is waiting to figure out what this all means,” Oliveira said. “We don’t know what the courts will allow [the Authority] to do or not do.”
Oliveira said his group has recently been preoccupied with responding to the Authority’s acquisition of right-of-way parcels in Kings County through the process of eminent domain.
He said the Hanford-based group remains active and is monitoring the progress of the latest lawsuit.
“The group still has the same objectives that it always has had: to ensure that the Authority builds a cost-effective project that’s planned well and doesn’t devastate our community.”