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Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 10, 2012

News Digest

Judge dismisses California Ave. challenge

Palo Alto can proceed with its ambitious plan to reduce the number of lanes on California Avenue from four to two and add a host of streetscape improvements despite opposition from several area merchants, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has ruled.

The plan for the commercial stretch was challenged by resident Joy Ogawa and by Terry Shuchat, owner of camera store Keeble & Shuchat 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 an environmental analysis for the project.

In November, Judge Patricia Lucas ruled 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 Metropolitan Transportation Commission grant and a $550,000 city contribution. To comply with Lucas' ruling, the City Council rescinded its earlier approvals and approved the documents again, this time in the proper order.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, similar lawsuit to the California Avenue plan by Robert Davidson of California Paint Company. Lucas is scheduled to hear the Davidson case Thursday, Feb. 16.

Palo Alto ponders next steps for compost plant

A decision by Palo Alto residents in November to make a portion of Byxbee Park available for a new compost plant is forcing city officials to walk a fine line between two competing goals — respecting the will of the voters and honoring its commitment to reopen the park to the public.

In its first vote on the deeply polarizing topic since Election Day, the City Council decided Monday, Feb. 6, to tread cautiously and directed staff and consultants to create a timeline for evaluating the proposed composting facility. Measure E, which allows the city to use 10 acres of previously dedicated parkland for a such a facility, had passed with 64 percent of the vote.

The measure did not authorize the construction of a waste-to-energy plant, however.

The council also authorized a separate contract for work pertaining to capping of the Byxbee Park landfill and agreed to delay the capping of a 51-acre portion of the site for a year.

Plan for four-track rail system draws ire

A new analysis by the California High Speed Rail Authority calling for a four-track rail system between the Bay Area and Central Valley has set off a fresh wave of criticism from officials in Palo Alto and surrounding cities, with many calling the latest document a betrayal of the rail authority's earlier promises.

The rail authority last month released a revised Environmental Impact Report (EIR) describing its vision for the Bay Area-to-Central Valley portion of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line. For many, the most surprising aspects of the document is its description of the line as a four-track system on the Caltrain corridor — a design that would require the adjacent Alma Street in Palo Alto to shrink by one traffic lane.

Palo Alto officials and Peninsula legislators had lobbied the rail authority to consider a "blended" system in which Caltrain and high-speed rail would share two tracks on the Peninsula. A reference to this blended approach, spearheaded by State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, was included in the rail authority's 2011 business plan, much to the delight of the legislators and many of their constituents.

But the revised program EIR (which is broader than the segment-specific project EIR) appears to adhere to the original, highly controversial vision — a four-track system through the Pacheco Pass. Its plan, the document states, "anticipates the local Caltrain and freight trains travel predominantly on the outside two tracks and the high-speed trains and express Caltrain to travel predominantly on the two inside tracks."

"However, depending on additional operational study related to integration of the HST with existing passenger and freight services, any of these train services could potentially run on the tracks placed on the outer portion of the newly expanded right-of-way," the revised EIR states. "This would result in trains, including freight, running closer to existing homes, schools and other noise-sensitive land uses."

On Thursday, Feb. 9, the Palo Alto City Council Rail Committee also came out swinging against the document, which member Pat Burt said abandons the blended approach. Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie called the authority's new position "duplicitous at best."

"We're back where we were a year ago on this, and we thought this thing was dead," Burt said.

The city plans to submit a letter opposing the four-track system. The rail committee also on Thursday endorsed proposed legislation, Senate Bill 985, that would bar further expenditure of bond proceeds for high-speed rail.

—Gennady Sheyner

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