Uploaded: Tue, Feb 7, 2012, 9:47 am
Judge dismisses challenge to California Ave lane reduction
Ruling could impact second lawsuit on $1.8 million streetscape project
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 To comply with Lucas' ruling, the City Council in late November rescinded its earlier approvals and approved the documents again, this time in the proper order.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)
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm
Ronna Devincenzi is a registered user.
Deep Throat, you are a breath of fresh air! Thank you for taking the time to ask questions and collect the facts.
The CAADA Streetscape Committee was under the direction of Chairperson, CAADA Board Member Terry Shuchat. CAADA Board Member Elizabeth Bishop "Feeta" was also on that committee, and for a while Feeta worked with Susan Rosenberg (from Canopy) on trees. That was all prior to 2007. If memory serves, the Streetscape Committee formed in early 2005. I started The Project in the Fall of 2004, getting CAADA directors, The City and stakeholders (a few residents and Canopy) at a joint meeting. But my plans to hold a follow-up Charette for the public were canceled, when The Streetscape Committee formed.
I was never on the CAADA Streetscape Committee. But the full CAADA Board would get regular updates from that committee. When Terry & Feeta brought their completed Concept Plan to the full CAADA Board, I supported what they suggested, and I added to it: one new crosswalk at Cal Ave & Park Blvd; and further, I was responsible for the work involving Newsracks, and I made suggestions where the new benches are best located.
While I'd like to take credit for this wonderful plan, I merely voted for it, after most of it was completed by the other CAADA directors. Then the CAADA Board, under my leadership, unanimously brought our Concept Plan TO THE CITY, who had already been apprised of every step, from the beginning. The Concept Plan always included a 2 lane configuration.
Public Works came to almost every CAADA meeting during the time the Plan was being formed, and Economic Development was at every meeting, for years. It was rare to not have the city rep in Economic Development at a CAADA meeting. This was a true collaboration.
The Streetscape Committee did due diligence by going to neighboring communities, with Public Works, seeing first-hand how the traffic flow was, and that was *before* they suggested their Plan to the remaining CAADA Board members, like me.
Before I voted for it, I attended a seminar in Redwood City, went to the neighboring districts and did my own research, and even spoke with experts in street design: experts whose work is specific to retail areas. Outside of that, I relied on the City that the decision was a good one, which, as a volunteer, is all I could have done.
The CAADA Streetscape Concept Plan is an ideal example of what council's priority was during that time: Civic Engagement. Public Works & the CAADA Streetscape Committee worked together, prior to 2007 (under Terry Shuchat's leadership), then Public Works worked with the Full CAADA Board from 2007-2009, until the Project commenced. Everyone was apprised.
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT FACT that should be mentioned, because there is still confusion:
The METHOD for tree replacement had NOT yet been decided by 2007. Only known was that most, if not all, of the Holly Oaks would be removed. And right up until May 2009, it COULD have been a phased cutting, instead of a clear cut.
At the May meeting, I personally spoke for a *phased cut*, bucking the opinion of not only the City, that recommended a clear-cut to the CAADA Board, but I bucked every other CAADA Board member at that time too, who all wanted a clear-cut. So that decision was made by the full CAADA Board, and all its sitting members, in May 2009.
I bucked The Board's opinion (that prevailed) in spite of the fact that Utility work on sidewalks, done when the street was torn up in 2009, had damaged some tree roots, and the health of some trees had changed from the last time trees were discussed in 2007. I still spoke for a measured and phased replacement, *OVERALL*. So regarding trees, I was just outvoted.
But regarding the lane configuration, I'm as surprised as anyone to see a former Board member resist it. The only *potential* new feature, as I see it, are the "pocket-parks" talked about. And I think they too, are terrific. As long as council does what should have happened years ago (most recently, when the Whole Foods Market area was included in the sit/lie ban downtown), and considers including the Cal Ave corridor in the sit/lie ban: its sidewalks, and any pocket-parks. With that said, potential pocket parks have nothing to do with the 2 lane configuration.
In the position of CAADA President, I was responsible for speaking on behalf of The Board, providing facts & giving rationale for The Board's decision whenever it was necessary. So the comment about my being "happy" after the clear cut is amusing. I often did not have my own opinion prevail while on the CAADA Board. The trees are one of 4 big things about which I was outvoted. And I'm consistent, because I'm STILL bucking what I've heard coming from former Board members, none of whom shared history of how the Streetscape Concept Plan came to be.
I don't know if there even IS a "merchant association" anymore. The last official CAADA meeting I know about, with all directors present, and with notifications that went out to the *entire membership*, was the day I resigned, in Jan. 2010, two years ago.
Adding to fact collections: the week before work began on the Streetscape, Sept. 2009, at a CAADA meeting, I was asked by Public Works to "notify everyone"; since I was accustomed to doing that already (the public, press releases, etc., as well as 80+ CAADA merchants) I did it.
It's unfortunate that the only notification of this project came from me. The City admitted that communication was handled badly. But from what I have witnessed so far, the City has done an excellent job of handling Phase Two, the street work.
As for the CAADA Board, and its decision to clear-cut, I saw no use in harboring grudges, just because I didn't get my way, or in coming across with a sour-grape attitude after the decision was made. As President, volunteer or otherwise, the role of spokesperson was mine, and no other director wanted to face the public, as did I, both at the first council meeting, and at the Farmer's Market gathering the following Sunday, feeling an obligation to remain on the same page with the city, as this had been a collaborative effort from 2004: a whopping 5 years!
It's my personal opinion that we need more team players in life, and less Prima Donna's! After The CAADA Board made its decision to clear-cut, I spoke in support of the decision, as the sitting CAADA President & its official spokesperson. I was neither happy nor sad about it. I just gave the facts, in public, as I'd done for 20 years prior.
I think the public's choice of trees varieties is terrific and they seem to be growing nicely, after having had two full years in the ground. My most favorite are the Silver Linden, the leaves are gorgeous! Dave Muffly (Canopy) did a super job of hand-choosing every single tree, so each would grow well, and not have the same problems as did the Holly Oaks.
So the tree planting is yet another successful example of Civic Engagement on Cal Ave: with the public, the city and Canopy in collaboration, even during such a crisis, all working well together.
For that, and for this decision by the judge, inching in favor of work finally re-commencing, and in a manner that will provide crosswalk safety for pedestrians, as a driver and a pedestrian on Cal Ave, I can say -- I'm very happy!
Posted by Fred Balin,
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm
Fred Balin is a registered user.
Yes for a New California Avenue writes:
"I don't think we exactly know the reason which ALL trees were taken. Their removal was heart breaking. We can't exclusively blame Ronna for that. CAADA may have requested some trees to be taken, but É I can't imagine she or they would have recommended the removal of 63 healthy, mature trees."
In a December article posted on Palo Alto Online, I chronicled the road to the tree removals. You are correct that the former CAADA president cannot be exclusively blamed. But what you could not imagine, in fact, did occur. Beginning in 2005, CAADA insiders began their campaign to convince the city to remove all the trees on California Avenue, and in January, 2009, a group, which included both Ronna Devincenzi and Terry Shuchat, succeeded.
The article is posted at Web Link .
Ronna Devincenzi writes:
"I've said a number of times: had the project not been stopped in 2009, the street would have been resurfaced, and the lanes reduced from 4 to 2, by Thanksgiving of that year."
Orwell would be smiling.
Or, in other words:
- if only the objection to the wholesale massacre of the trees along California Avenue within a community caught by surprise had not been so unreasonably harsh and widespread,
- if only more people had taken to heart our cautions of the dangers of tripping over acorns; slipping on leaves; trees that lean, drop residue, block signage, and are mismatched,
- if only more people accepted our unsubstantiated claims of a California Avenue urban forest rife with disease,
- if only people had relied less on what their eyes, experience, and common sense guided them to be true,
- if only people appreciated that our unannounced desire for a uniform canopy of deciduous red maples to develop at a uniform growth rate required us to remove every tree no matter what its condition, and that the replanting process then needed to start directly after lest there be great distress to the business district, and
- if only more people had accepted the premise that a project formed in private collaboration between a few folks at CAADA and the Department of Public Works, and that had just destroyed nearly every tree on the streetscape, should then be allowed to continue to proceed on through all its subsequent and previously-unknown phases and, once again, without public input,
- then all would be well.
But somehow, despite this logic, the streetscape project was stopped.
"Can we please move beyond the tree issue and all the grudges held over that? The trees are gone and this new project has nothing to do with them."
The dialog, discussion, debate, litigation, and city process related to the post-tree-removal streetscape planning in general, and the lane diet in particular, has been clouded by the involvement of two long-time members of the CAADA board, both key players in the organization's successful efforts to remove the trees from California Avenue.
That is because over the 23 months since the trees fell, neither has offered a single public word of remorse, responsibility, or apology for their individual actions or for that of their association, purported to represent the interests of the business district.
One remains completely silent on the matter.
The other continues to distort the record, while filling her posts with self-serving and extraneous material. On this thread alone, her 7 posts cover over 3,000 words. While the initial one supported a rational discussion on one side of the lane-reduction controversy, subsequent ones soon veered off into familiar, extended justifications of her role concerning the fate of trees, discussions of her various other involvements on behalf of CAADA, usual complaints about businesses that did not attend CAADA board meetings, and diversions into completely unrelated topics.
In her last post, she curiously closes with this incongruous juxtaposition: "I do understand how folks can feel about trees. There is one tree I really, *really* miss. It was a glorious & huge Pistache tree on Cambridge that could be seen from Cal Ave ..."
The defining event in the long history of CAADA is its role in the September 2009 mass tree removals on California Avenue. The stain is so ingrained, that the association's name can no longer be used in discourse before the city. Rather, some of its main players have shifted to a newly formed group, the Business Association of California Avenue (i.e., BACA).
For CAAADA's former president to state she understands how people feel about trees and then reminisce about a tree on Cambridge -- no matter lovely it once was -- supports the impression that she remains completely out of touch with the pain and damage she helped foment.
Richard, if either of these players or any other CAADA board member involved in the tree removals of 2009, wishes to truly begin to move the community past this event in the context of his or her public participation related to the future of California Avenue, all it takes is the capacity for true empathy, introspection, sincerity, and a public statement.
If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.