In the continuing legal battle between Central Valley agricultural interests and California’s high-speed rail (“HSR”) project, plaintiffs in three separate lawsuits in Sacramento County Superior Court requested a preliminary injunction to stop all work associated with the initial segment of the HSR between Merced and Fresno until a ruling on the lawsuits’ merits. On November 16, 2012, however, Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley denied the injunctions on the basis that the potential harm to the California High Speed Rail Authority (“Authority”) outweighed the potential harm to the project opponents while the lawsuits proceed. The project opponents urged Judge Frawley to grant the preliminary injunctions because the Authority’s Environmental Impact Report did not sufficiently analyze the impacts to lost agricultural land, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). However, Judge Frawley ruled that CEQA “does not require perfection,” and that the potential loss of $3 billion in federal funding tied to a construction deadline, coupled with additional construction costs due to the delay, would cause more harm to the Authority than to the project opponents, whose losses would not be realized until after construction commenced and the lawsuits were decided on their merits.
Despite numerous other lawsuits filed against the Authority, this is the first time that a preliminary injunction had been requested to halt construction. The project opponents’ cases in Sacramento Superior Court will be heard on the merits in April 2013 and construction is slated to begin next summer, barring any other court imposed delays.