The City of Palo Alto's effort to remove two lanes from California Avenue took a leap forward Monday afternoon when a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge rejected a lawsuit from a local merchant who opposes the lane-reduction plan.
The lawsuit was filed by Robert Davidson, whose business, California Paint Company, is located on California Avenue. This was the second lawsuit by California Avenue merchants opposed to reducing the number of lanes from four to two. In February, Judge Patricia Lucas rejected a similar challenge from Terry Shuchat of Keeble & Shuchat Photography and resident Joy Ogawa. Both lawsuits claimed that the city violated environmental law in approving the $1.8 million streetscape project.
Like Shuchat and Ogawa, Davidson claimed in his suit that the city had failed to accurately describe the project and that it did not adequately analyze the potential impact on area businesses. The city argued that Davidson's suit is nearly identical to the first challenge and that the court should throw it out.
Though Lucas allowed the challenge to go forward, she ultimately sided with the city after concluding that Davidson did not express any objections to the lane-reduction project prior to filing his lawsuit against the city. Because he did not exhaust his "administrative remedies" before contesting the lane-reduction plan in court, his petition cannot advance, she concluded.
"It having been established that a jurisdictional prerequisite, exhaustion of administrative remedies, does not exist, this Petition may not go forward," Lucas wrote in her tentative brief. "Respondents' motion is granted."
The petitioners had not indicated their intention to contest Lucas' ruling as of late Monday afternoon, Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin said. The court ruling essentially ends Davidson's legal challenge.
Even though they did not prevail in court, the merchants could claim a victory of sorts. By tying up the project in litigation, critics of the project have kept Palo Alto from receiving a $1.2 million grant city officials were expecting to get from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The city had hoped to begin the project this spring and complete it by fall. With the delay in grant funding, planning officials now hope to start the project next year.
The City Council had unanimously approved the lane-reduction project a year ago with the goal of making California Avenue more economically vibrant and more accommodating to pedestrians and bicyclists. Opponents -- a group that includes owners of Mollie Stone's, Antonio's Nuthouse and former Vice Mayor Jack Morton -- have argued that the lane reduction would disrupt traffic and lead to business closures.