A Madera County Board of Supervisors 3-2 vote March 2 to withdraw from a joint lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail authority, drew sharp criticism from the two supervisors who voted against dropping the suit -- District 3 Supervisor Rick Farinelli and District 1 Supervisor David Rodgers.
The county was one of several groups who filed suit over the authority's environmental approval of the Merced-Fresno portion of the $68 billion state-wide rail system. Although the vote removes the county from the suit, other parties plan to continue with the court action.
Farinelli issued a statement, saying three of his colleagues (board chairman Max Rodriguez, Tom Wheeler and recent governor Brown appointment Manuel Nevarez), walked away from the lawsuit that "sought to protect taxpayers, farmers and our children from the devastating effects of high speed rail.
"Madera County, along with our friends from the Madera Farm Bureau and Preserve Our Heritage vowed, just a few short months ago, to stand up to the goliath California High Speed Rail Authority and hold them accountable for the destruction they will do to our community and their failure to consider the future of Madera County," Farinelli said.
"I am deeply concerned that businesses right here in Madera County will be closed, jobs will be lost, agriculture will suffer and our way of life forgotten as a result of High Speed Rail," Farinelli said. "I refuse to stand by and watch as our future is compromised for the benefit of Southern California and the Bay Area. I cannot, in good conscience, give away the farm on the false hopes that maybe, one day, a maintenance facility might land on our doorstep. The truth is, we will give up more than we will ever gain from high speed rail and the maintenance facility that so many are hanging their hats on, is likely going to one of our bigger neighbors to the south, leaving Madera County with nothing."
Rogers was also upset my the vote.
"I've been a three year warrior of trying to keep high-sped rail from doing damage to our community,"Rogers said. "Portions of the rail route are not in established transportation corridors such as Highway 99, but cut through productive farmland. "I believe the board majority voted to drop the suit to avoid discouraging the rail authority from considering a Madera County site for a major maintenance facility for the train system."
Rogers said he respects his colleagues (Rodriguez, Wheeler and Nevarez) right to feel the way they want, but I feel they are pinning their hopes and dreams on something that's not going to come to fruition."
Wheeler says litigation will not stop project
Wheeler, in a prepared statement, said his decision to end county support of the lawsuit stemmed primarily from his belief that litigation is not the best use of the county's resources.
"Although there are many, including me, who are skeptical of the project, I recognize that the people of California approved it and there is money in place to start it," Wheeler said. "It seems an almost certainty that at least the first phase will move forward. Overall, at least for the immediate future, it could be a financial boon to the County. Nevertheless, well-minded individuals and jurisdictions have elected to pursue lawsuits to stop the project. Unfortunately, California Environmental Quality Act lawsuits, such as the one the county was a part of, will not stop a project. It will only delay it long enough to cure any defects in the E.I.R."
Wheeler said he believed it would be a far better use of county resources to come to the table willingly and negotiate mitigation measures that minimize any negative impacts, and ensure the county profits from the high speed rail project.
"We will accomplish so much more with participation in the process than by time-consuming confrontation," Wheeler said. "I will continue to support, using staff time, to promote our county as a place to create high-paying jobs, both in construction and as long-term operators of a maintenance facility. If and when the high speed rail is built, I believe it's crucial for Madera County to be in a position to reap every possible benefit."
Farinelli, on a larger perspective, feels high speed rail is a loser for the entire state.
"The true costs of this project are unknown. Just last week we learned that former High Speed Rail Authority chairman and long time supporter of high speed rail, Quentin Kopp, is suing to stop this train wreck in the making. I agree with Mr. Kopp that the project as it is being proposed now is not what Californians supported when they voted for the bond measure. If this project is going to continue, the voters of California deserve an opportunity to vote on the real project and the real costs. It is for these reasons that I refuse to go quietly. It is for these reasons that I will continue to oppose high speed rail at every crossing, every turn and every route through Madera County."