President's weekly report — May 23, 2014

May 23, 2014 | By ROB RIVETT

Government Accountability — Medium speed California choo-choo 

The Third District Court of Appeal heard arguments today in California High-Speed Rail Authority v. Superior Court of Sacramento County and Tos, et. al. on whether the $8.6 billion in bonds should go forward.  As you recall, the voters agreed to spend $9.5 billion in bonds to build a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  But after the total costs (bond money plus magical fairy-dust money) grew to close to $100 billion Governor Brown wisely concluded that not even that much money grows on moonbeams so he scaled back the project from a high-speed rail line to a “blended-speed” rail line that would interconnect with existing inner-city rail lines making the project something quite different from what the voters approved.  And it would cost only $68 billion and pocket change. Thus, when the state sought approval to unleash its bonding authority to get a crack at the first $8.6 billion (which now includes a billion dollar slush fund for local transportation districts) a few taxpayers objected, including PLF’s clients the First Free Will Baptist Church in Bakersfield which doesn’t relish the prospect of a train whistling by its inner-city church and school every fifteen minutes or so (the “or so” refers to the fact that the train is also slated to run less frequently that the voters were told.)  After the trial court agreed that the bonding authority didn’t adequately justify its case, the case went on appeal.  At today’s argument  the justices clearly directed the toughest questioning to our side – i.e., the opponents of “validating” the bonds.  However, it was cogently stressed, in response, that the High Speed Rail project must be held to clear standards of accountability, in terms of both administrative law and (state) constitutional law.   The court has 90 days to issue a ruling.

Water rights — Never let an emergency go to waste

We filed these comments this week concerning a new proposal for California emergency water rights regulations.  We also testified at hearing before California State Water Resources Control Board on emergency regulations to restrict use of water rights on three creeks in Northern California.   The emergency regulations sidestep existing due process protections in the California Water Code, allowing the Water Board staff to restrict use of water rights during drought in favor of water supplies for fisheries.  The emergency regulations also allow the Water Board staff wide discretion to give special favorable treatment to certain junior water rights if the staff thinks those uses should not be curtailed.  Various commenters argued that the regulations will adversely impact irrigation water rights to provide marginal if any benefit for fisheries.

Equality Under the Law – Government contracting, again.

We filed this amicus brief in the revival of Rothe Development, Inc. v. Department of Defense, arguing that the Department of Defense may not discriminate when it awards contracts.  Previously, the government lost when Rothe Development sued over Department of Defense contracts being unlawfully awarded to non-low bidders based on race.  So, now DOD is evading that ruling by doing the same thing again, this time relying on suspect provisions of the Small Business Act.  So, DOD is being sued again and we’re filing an amicus brief again.