Uploaded: Fri, Nov 18, 2011, 9:53 am
Judge halts plan to cut lanes on Cal Ave
City has to reapprove its environmental analysis after judge sides with opponents of streetscaping plan
Palo Alto has to halt its plan to reduce lanes on California Avenue and reconsider its environmental analysis of the streetscaping plan for the business district, a Santa Clara Superior Court judge ruled earlier this month.
The ruling by Judge Patricia Lucas was a victory by a small group of opponents of the California Avenue Streetscape Plan -- a group that includes Terry Shuchat of the California Avenue camera store Keeble & Shuchat, resident Joy Ogawa and former Vice Mayor Jack Morton, whose accounting practice is located a block away from California Avenue.
In her Nov. 9 ruling, Lucas found flaws with the council's sequence of actions. The city conducted its environmental review for the project at the same time as it was applying for a grant that would pay for the street modifications. Thus, Lucas reasoned, the city settled on its lane-reduction plan, as described in the grant application, before the environmental analysis was complete.
Once the council approved a resolution submitting the city's grant application, Lucas wrote, there was no longer any "'genuine flexibility' in the planning process for the California Avenue improvement project." This means other options, including the "no action" alternative, were out of consideration. This, she said, violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
"The City's application committed it to a lane reduction: a design feature that foreclosed other options, including leaving the street as it is with four lanes (the "no project" option required to be considered under CEQA)," Lucas wrote.
City Attorney Molly Stump said the court ruling means the council will rescind its approvals of the grant-application resolution and the project's "negative declaration" (an environmental analysis) and consider them once again, in the sequence ordered by Lucas. The council will rescind its earlier approvals at its next meeting, on Nov. 21.
"The court just said there was a problem with timing," Stump said. "The council needed to reconsider the project after adoption of the environmental-review documents.
"We don't think anything needs to be redone in terms of staff work."
Lucas rejected other complaints from the plaintiffs, including their assertion that the city violated the Brown Act by not giving them a chance to comment on all the documents before council approval. Lucas found no evidence of any prejudice from the city against the plaintiffs. She also found the plaintiffs' argument that the project violates the city's Comprehensive Plan "moot."
William Ross, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he disagrees with Stump that the judge's ruling is largely "technical" and said he is still examining the ruling for elements that could be appealed.
Shuchat said he is pleased with the judge's decision, which will require the city to conduct further review before implementing the plan. Shuchat said the city's proposal would only create more congestion.
"I would like the city to keep the street at a four-lane configuration -- two lanes in each direction," Shuchat said. "I feel traffic movement is very good on the street now. There's no reason to make it two lanes."
The council unanimously approved the environmental analysis for the California Avenue Streetscape Plan on Feb. 14 after hearing from dozens of residents and several merchants. The overwhelming majority spoke in favor of the plan, which the city planners say will make the commercial stretch more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. The plan, which is largely funded by a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority grant, also includes various landscaping improvements and new street furniture. Council members had words of praise for the proposal, with Greg Scharff calling it a "fabulous project."
Shuchat said that while he opposes lane reduction, he supports other elements of the streetscape project and hopes the council will proceed with its plan to beautify the business district. He also said he hopes the city would seek more input from neighborhood stakeholders.
"What would be really nice is if the city had better contact with the merchants and property owners," Shuchat said.
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:54 am
The lane reduction from 4 to 2 did *not* originate with the city. It was proposed *to* the city by the CAADA Board, in a unanimous decision, after the Streetscape Committee, chaired by Terry Shuchat with Elizabeth "Feeta" Bishop as a member, designed the Concept Plan & brought it to the rest of the CAADA Board for our support in 2007.
The Streetscape Committee did due diligence, coming up with a good plan to address the safety of pedestrians in crosswalks, a problem that had been a district concern for more than 10 years prior to the Concept Plan vote.
I voted for their plan, which included the lane reduction. The whole project would have been completed by Thanksgiving, 2009, had the Streetscape Project not been halted because the city failed to notify the public, and those businesses closeby, as they said they would do six weeks before work commenced in Sept. 2009.
I had kept 80 mostly ground floor retail businesses for whom I had email addresses, in the loop about the entire Streetscape Project since Day One: Fall, 2004. When on Sept. 9th, 2009, the city asked me to "notify everyone" about the work commencement, I did so, not knowing the entire city was only hearing from me, about work that was to happen 5 days later. But 80, mostly ground floor retail merchants were in the loop, regularly.
I doubt there are as many merchants opposed to the 2 lane configuration as has been suggested. And if they were given FACTS, some of those now opposed to it may feel differently. My gut feeling is that this is not as much about the lane configuration for most as much as it is they think the street will be torn up for a year.
But for those merchants strongly opposed to it now, in the year 2011, they should have come to the many meetings I called from 2004-2007, with important desicions made from 2007-2009, encouraging them to participate in the Concept Plan, as it was being designed.
I even arranged for meetings to be held Thursdays, instead of Wednesdays, to accommodate more merchants that told me Wednesday wasn't good. But not one more merchant showed up. They had no interest.
It was always the same group of people. So the representatives that *did* show up made the decisions: like the clear cut of 3 blocks of trees. Note: I was the *only* director that spoke for phasing, *prior* to the vote. I lost.
All other directors voted with the city's suggestion to clear-cut, and that was after a last minute review of each tree was done (and photos of each tree was taken, a tidbit of information that was not made public, to my knowledge).
Terry Shuchat has been a CAADA board member for over 25 years. His Streetscape Committee worked closely with Public Works (Bob Morris) while creating the plan, including the lane reduction from 4 to 2. Yet, the city is being "blamed" for this. It was the CAADA Board that created the plan in the first place. NOT THE CITY.
Very odd is had Streetscape Phase 1-including lane reductions, been completed in Nov. 2009, as planned, the entire project budget was $335K. That's the *whole* project: new trees, street resurface,
new crosswalks and the installation of a NEW crosswalk on Cal Ave at Park Blvd.; and after Jan. 2010: new benches, bike racks, trash cans would be installed, and newsracks would be addressed.
I find it odd that $300K was planning to be spent on a study, when by Thanksgiving 2009, the whole project budget was $335K.
Further, comparing California Ave. a 3-block business district with plenty of areas for drivers to turn off (cross-streets, alleys) to University Ave, a street 4 times as long with fewer ways to turn from, is not practical. Frankly, it's ridiculous.
The ideal configuration for Cal Ave is what the Streetscape Committee brought to the CAADA Board for approval in 2007 & that sat around, waiting to be done, until Sept. 2009, when the Utility work was done.
If I had to vote again today, even given all the hype about this, I'd still vote for the lane reduction from 4 to 2. PROTECT PEDESTRIANS in the best way possible, and from every expert I've spoken with, one lane in each direction is the solution.
It would have been really good if Jack Morton had come to a CAADA meeting in the 20 years I served as President, or if he even contacted me once, when he was still on the council. Then he would have facts about the background of this.
And if the council liason to CAADA showed up to Board meetings, council would have been in the loop too. Council members have to *request* being a liason, so one could assume there was interest in the district. But the last council liason to attend CAADA Board meetings was Yoriko Kishimoto, prior to her being elected mayor.
I'd not hold this turn of events against the "merchants" as a whole, as most of them are just trying to make ends meet, in their own little shops. But speaking up would help - as a customer, as a pedestrian. Just my view.