Palo Alto can proceed with its ambitious plan to reduce lanes on California Avenue and add a host of streetscape improvements to the commercial stretch despite opposition from several area merchants, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled.
The plan, which calls for reducing lanes on California from four to two, was challenged by resident Joy Ogawa and by Terry Shuchat, whose camera store Keeble & Shuchat is located on California. Ogawa and Shuchat had argued in their lawsuit that the city had violated state law by committing to the lane reduction before approving the environmental analysis for the project.
Related story: Plans for California Avenue continue to evolve (Oct. 21, 2011)
In November, Judge Patricia Lucas ruled that the city had made a procedural error in approving its environmental clearance and grant application for the $1.8 million project, which would be funded by a $1.2 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a $550,000 contribution from the city. To comply with Lucas' ruling, the City Council in late November rescinded its earlier approvals and approved the documents again, this time in the proper order.
On Friday, Feb. 3, Lucas granted the city's request to dismiss the case.
The legal victory could help Palo Alto overcome another legal challenge to the California Avenue plan. Last month, Robert Davidson of California Paint Company filed a suit that also challenges the city's environmental documents. Much like Ogawa and Shuchat, Davidson alleges that the city had inaccurately described the project and illegally split the project into phases for environmental analysis rather than evaluate the project as a whole.
Davidson also claimed that the city did not consider the impact of the lane reduction to area businesses. The lane reduction, the suit argued, would hinder customers' ability to reach businesses on California, possibly resulting in business closures.
City Attorney Molly Stump said the Davidson lawsuit is virtually identical to the one that the court had just dismissed. Because of the similarities, the city asked the court to expedite its hearings on the Davidson lawsuit.
Assistant City Attorney Don Larkin wrote in the city's demurrer that the Davidson case "is nothing more than an attempt by a small group of disaffected individuals to circumvent the democratic process in the hope of blocking a project that is designed to benefit both the environment and the local economy."
City Attorney Molly Stump said the city's request was granted. Lucas is scheduled to hear the Davidson case on Feb. 16.
Council members and planning staff have consistently maintained that the lane-reduction plan would revitalize California Avenue and make it safer for pedestrians and bicycles. An analysis by the city indicated that the lane reduction would not negatively impede the flow of traffic.
Related story: Plan to cut lanes on California Avenue challenged again (Jan. 5, 2012)