SACRAMENTO -- A Sacramento County judge ruled Friday that the agency overseeing the California bullet train failed to comply with the financial and environmental requirements voters were promised when they approved initial funding for the project five years ago.
But rail officials said the project will proceed as planned with a groundbreaking this summer after Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny said the Legislature was within its authority last year to approve the first $8 billion phase of the project anyway.
Kenny said the rail authority "abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law." After another round of court briefs, the judge will hold another hearing to determine whether to penalize the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Central Valley landowners and the Kings County Board of Supervisors argued in their 2011 lawsuit that the $68 billion high-speed rail plan did not meet the promises made to voters in 2008, when they approved selling $10 billion in bonds for it.
Proposition 1A required the agency to identify funding for the entire first segment of the project and clear all environmental hurdles before starting construction.
However, rail authority Chairman Dan Richard said Friday, the ruling did not invalidate the plan "and our work on the project continues. We take our commitment to Proposition 1A seriously and continue to work towards developing a high-speed rail project that benefits all Californians."
Lawmakers last summer authorized selling $2.6 billion in state bonds for construction of the first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley, allowing the state to tap $3.3 billion in federal matching funds. That is just a fraction of the eventual financing needed to link Northern and Southern California by high-speed train.
The judge said the authority's 2012 draft business plan describes all potential federal sources of financing as "theoretical possibilities and not as sources of funds reasonably expected actually to be available starting in 2015."
The judge said the plain language in the initiative indicates that financing and environmental clearances should be completed for the first 290 miles.
Staff writer Mike Rosenberg contributed to this report.