A Palo Alto resident and a California Avenue merchant have filed a lawsuit against the city this week, claiming that the city violated environmental law when it approved a streetscape project for the California Avenue business district in February.
The project, which includes a reduction of lanes from four to two and new street furniture along California, earned the unanimous approval of the City Council Feb. 14 despite opposition from a group of merchants and residents. Two opponents, Joy Ogawa and Terry Shuchat, filed their lawsuit Monday.
Shuchat, whose camera business, Keeble & Shuchat, is located on California Avenue, and Ogawa filed a suit with the Santa Clara County Superior Court asking for the court to halt the project and require Palo Alto to redo its environmental analysis. The plaintiffs claim that the city's "negative declaration" -- an environmental analysis required by the California Environmental Quality Act -- for the project is deeply flawed. They argue in the suit that it did not consider, among other things, an "adequate project description" and evidence from business owners about the impacts of project constructions.
"Business closures and resulting blight is an impact on the physical environment that must be assessed in the environmental document," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims that the city's environmental document failed to consider numerous factors, including approval from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and did not consider mitigations to the project's impact on parking. The city, the plaintiffs argue, also segmented the project into phases, in violation of environmental law.
Plaintiffs are calling for the city to "set aside" its approvals for the environmental documents and "immediately suspend all activities" associated with these documents.
In addition, Ogawa and Shucat allege that the city violated state law governing Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan, which encourages "local-serving retail." Further, they claim the city "abused its discretion and acted in excess of its jurisdiction" before approving the streetscape plan.
The lawsuit also states the city violated the state's Brown Act by failing to making documents available to the public that were available to the City Council prior to its Feb. 14 meeting.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of attempts by a group of business owners and residents to derail the $1.7 million project. In early February, local attorney William Ross and a small group of California Avenue merchants attended a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and asked the commission not to fund the project. The commission is providing $1.2 million for the project through the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), while the city is chipping in another $500,000.
During the Feb. 14 meeting, the overwhelming majority of the public speakers spoke in favor of the project, which staff said would create a more pedestrian- and transit-friendly environment in the commercial stretch of California Avenue between El Camino Real and the Caltrain station. Shuchat was among the minority who argued against the project at that meeting, claiming that the lane reduction would create traffic problems and hurt local businesses.
"The current traffic flow on California Avenue is excellent," Shuchat said. "Business is difficult enough in the current economic times without the City of Palo Alto making it more difficult."