The following is a press release issued by the City of Fort Bragg:
On Thursday, April 28, citing an abundance of case law and legal precedent, Judge Clayton L. Brennan of the Mendocino County Superior Court ruled against Skunk Train operator
Mendocino Railway’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the City of Fort Bragg (City)
concerning the City’s ability to exercise authority over land use within city boundaries. In ruling for the City, the Court found that excursion service railroads like the Skunk Train “are not operating as public utilities and should not be regulated by the [California Public Utilities Commissions] as such.”
This early decision of the court is an important step in dispelling the falsehood that the Skunk Train is a public utility and therefore not subject to local regulatory oversight. The City is committed to ensuring that development on the former Georgia Pacific Mill Site meets the needs and character of the community, that environmental hazards are appropriately remediated, and that current and future public infrastructure requirements are addressed with water supply, sewer facilities and roads.
Since acquiring 272 acres of coastal land, which comprises approximately a third of the land within city limits, Mendocino Railway has not acted in good faith with regard to development within the City of Fort Bragg. Rather than seeking a Coastal Development Permit application and committing to abide by the same rules as all other developers, Mendocino Railway has instead claimed to operate as a common carrier public utility. If unchallenged, this common carrier determination would allow Mendocino Railway to strategically claim exemption from local and state regulations and bypass the community’s ability to participate in planning reuse of the site.
As such, late last year the City filed a lawsuit in Mendocino County Superior Court disputing
Mendocino Railway’s claim. In response, Mendocino Railway promptly submitted a legal
pleading, known as a Demurrer, requesting dismissal of the case. The basis of this request
rested on the false assumption that by virtue of Mendocino Railway’s status as a federally
regulated railroad and public utility, the Mendocino County Superior Court lacks jurisdiction, or is preempted from even considering the City’s lawsuit.
However, citing extensive legal precedent, as well as a previous California Public Utilities
Commission determination that Mendocino Railway “is not engaged in interstate transportation-related activities but rather simply provides a sightseeing excursion loop service,” the Court ruled that Mendocino Railway’s preemption argument is overly broad.
The City now looks forward to this case progressing toward a resolution that results in a
declaration from the Court that Mendocino Railway is not exempt from local land-use authority.