Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Sep. 9, 2014 – 4:27 pm

Jerry Brown’s two big legacy projects, a north-south bullet train and twin water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, are approaching points of no return.

They face legal, regulatory and financial hurdles that must be cleared for them to proceed. The next few months – a year at the most – may determine their fates.

Brown scored two recent wins for the $68 billion bullet train, for which preliminary work in the San Joaquin Valley has begun.

The Legislature appropriated $250 million from cap-and-trade fees on greenhouse gas emissions to relieve a cash crunch for the project, and a state appellate court set aside two lower court rulings that the project had not met its legal requirements.

The $250 million is the first installment on a guaranteed allotment of cap-and-trade funds for the project – money that Brown’s bullet train managers believe can be leveraged, possibly through federal loans, to form the backbone of a complete financial plan.

They may have bought some time to formulate that plan when the appellate court declared that the High-Speed Rail Authority needn’t yet fully comply with what it called a “straitjacket” of financial and environmental requirements in the 2008 bullet train bond issue approved by voters.

The appellate court, in two rulings now being appealed to the state Supreme Court, said that the challenge to a preliminary funding plan “was too late to have any practical effect, and it is too early to challenge a yet-to-be approved final funding plan,” and also upheld the validity of a bond sale.

In one appeal, attorneys for opponents counter that “The Court of Appeal’s decision essentially allowed the Authority and the Legislature to rewrite Prop. 1A contrary to the intent of the voters.”

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