Palo Alto's plan to reduce lanes on California Avenue from four to two and to add a host of streetscape improvements to the commercial strip is facing a fresh legal challenge from an area merchant.
The plan, which the City Council unanimously approved last February, was temporarily halted in November because of a lawsuit from resident Joy Ogawa and from Terry Shuchat, whose store, Keeble & Schuchat, stands on California Avenue. Ogawa and Shuchat had argued that the city violated environmental law in approving the project.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas ruled in November that the city has to rescind its environmental clearance for the project and reapprove the project. The council did that in late November.
Now, Palo Alto is facing a new lawsuit from Robert Davidson of California Paint Company. The suit alleges that the city's actions in November once again failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act because the resolution approved by the council in November is virtually "identical" to the one that was rescinded.
Davidson's suit also claims that the city's readopted negative declaration (a document that evaluates the project's environmental impacts) "did not consider either the temporary or permanent impact of the project construct, which is still undefined, or the permanent lane reduction that would impede access to existing businesses.
"Specifically customers would be unable to reach businesses in the Project area, which could result in business closures. Business closures and resulting blight is an impact on the physical environment that must be assessed in an environmental document."
The new suit asks the court to invalidate the re-approval of the environmental documents because the city "inaccurately and inadequately described the project," improperly "segmented" the project for environmental analysis (essentially, did not analyze the project in its entirety, but in segments) and failed to evaluate construction impacts and possible mitigation strategies.
The suit is being handled by William Ross, a local attorney who also represented Ogawa and Shuchat and who has been a vocal critic of the re-striping plan.
City officials have consistently maintained that they have followed environmental law in approving the project, which would be funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a $550,000 contribution from the city. Palo Alto has held numerous public hearings on the project before the council voted in February to approve it.
Council members and staff have argued that the new design will make California Avenue safer and more attractive for pedestrians and bicyclists and that it would help invigorate the commercial strip by making it more like University Avenue and Mountain View's Castro Street.