Thursday, November 30, 2023

Mendocino County Superior Court Ruling Decides the Skunk Train is Not a Public Utility

The following is a press release issued by the City of Fort Bragg:

The Skunk Train crossing the Noyo River [Picture taken by Drew Jacksich]

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.

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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.

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  1. You know if you keep on fucking over the Skunk Train and it closes Fort brag is signing its own death warrent. Glas Beach is extremely disappointing and no one out of state wants to visit a city that has no attractions . Plus the tourist revenue that will dry up ending more jobs than the few the train lost . Think for a minute.

    • Although the Skunk Train route isn’t applicable to former ICC Law of ‘Public convenience and necessity’, (not interstate) it is of critical importance to Ft Bragg and Willits. The Skunk Train has been bounced around and not given the attention it rightly deserves. Ft Bragg needs all the economic help it can get. Fears of a ‘Disneyland’ in Ft Bragg are a bit exaggerated.

      The ‘Skunk’ wanted a Depot at the old Remco plant across the street from Safeway which would have been perfect. Through convoluted politics and ‘good ole boy’ cronyism, (about a ‘brewery’) it got bounced out that location. So where’s the brewery? Sad as revenues would have brought more money into city coffers.

    • Sure. No one comes here for the beaches, scenery, and other natural beauty. They only come for the train 🤣

  2. That’s absurd. They are a common carrier baring the tunnel being currently being out. Carrying the mail, etc for years. The city needs to start realizing that while there are lots of great things to do in the area, that the railroad brings in the most tourists and should welcome any new jobs created by their expansion. This has worked out really well for Skagway, and should be the case in Ft. Bragg as well.

  3. Leave the train alone, sick of NIMBY’s ruining a good thing for everyone. It’s all just a ploy for stupid trails, you have enough of them. Real fair and balanced coverage, btw….

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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
Editor's Note: Whenever an article's byline reads "MendoFever Staff", the contents of that article were not composed by any of our reporters. Types of writing that will be attributed to "MendoFever Staff" include press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, obituaries— essentially writing that is not produced by a reporter.

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