SAN FRANCISCO - Plans to build a $68 billion high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco are being challenged by new lawsuits filed by two counties, a city, and three other parties.
The lawsuits challenge the state's 20,000-page environmental review of a 114-mile stretch of the rail project in the San Joaquin Valley.
The latest lawsuit, filed by Kern County officials on Friday, alleges that the California High Speed Rail Authority's environmental review of the route from Fresno to Bakersfield does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.
The county says that the review is not thorough enough and fails to account for things such as public access to parkways, relocating existing electrical infrastructure, and locating construction staging areas.
That filing came a day after Kings County, the Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability, and the Kings County Farm Bureau made similar complaints in a separate lawsuit filed in the Sacramento County Superior Court.
"For over three years, these three entities have attempted to coordinate with the authority to avoid and reduce environmental impacts from the proposed rail line," the Citizens group said in a statement. "Unfortunately these attempts have been ignored as the final [environmental impact report] leaves numerous significant impacts unaddressed, provides defective mitigation measures, draws unsupported conclusions and defers analysis and mitigation measures to an unspecified time."
The lawsuit states that the segment "would ultimately cause extensive significant adverse impacts to, among other things, Central Valley agriculture, air quality, land use parks and recreation resources, a hospital, churches, and hundreds of homes."
The county's attorneys are asking the court to order the rail authority to take several actions, including rescinding certification of the environmental impact report, reversing its approval of the Fresno-Bakersfield segment, and preparing a new environmental report.
Joining Kern and Kings Counties is landowner Coffee-Brimhall LLC, with a lawsuit claiming that the segment would destroy prime farmland and historic resources, increase traffic that it is intended to reduce, and would conflict with local land use plans.
"Many of these impacts would fall disproportionately on minority and low-income populations," the lawsuit claims.
Separate complaints were filed by the First Free Will Baptist Church of Bakersfield, the city of Bakersfield, and Dignity Health.
The rail authority has responded by saying its environmental analysis is thorough and complete and that there has been no opposition to it from any federal or state agency responsible for environmental protection.
"This is not about protecting the environment but about Kings County and other opponents trying every means possible to stop high-speed rail," an authority spokesperson said in a statement.
This isn't the first time that Kings County has filed a complaint against the rail authority. In 2012, the county challenged the authority's funding plan to issue $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds, saying it violates Proposition 1A, passed by voters in 2008.
The court granted a partial victory for the county, ruling that the authority must rescind approval of its November 2011 funding plan.
The rail authority has also faced several similar environmental challenges in 2012, when it approved environmental reports and a route for its Merced-Fresno section. Those cases were settled out of court by the spring of 2013.