by Don Kazak
The Sand Hill Road project may not end up in court afterall. In a surprising move, the Menlo Park City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night not to sue Palo Alto to try to stop the project.
In addition, this week a spokesman for the anti-Sand Hill group Citizens for Sensible Planning, confirmed that his group also won't be filing a lawsuit to block the project.
Menlo Park resident Bill Watson said this week that any serious legal challenge to the project would have to seek an injunction to stop the start of construction. For private citizens to seek such an injunction, they would have to file a bond equal to the value of the project. In this case, that's $342 million. "Bill Gates is not supporting us," Watson said.
If Menlo Park sued, on the other hand, Watson said the city could seek an injunction without putting up the large bond. For now, however, that isn't happening.
Opponents of the Sand Hill plans have 30 days from July 16 to file a lawsuit to challenge the Sand Hill Road project's environmental impact report, which was approved by the Palo Alto City Council June 30.
The swing vote in the Menlo Park City Council's decision belonged to Paul Collacchi who, along with Chuck Kinney, was elected last fall after running almost exclusively on a platform of opposing the Sand Hill Road projects. Their victory swept former Mayor Dee Tolles out of office in what was widely regarded as an upset.
The election meant that along with current Mayor Steve Schmidt, the City Council had three Sand Hill opponents on the City Council. But on Tuesday night Collacchi voted against filing suit.
"I didn't see our position being enhanced by a lawsuit," Collacchi said after the vote. "Ultimately, I didn't see much value in a lawsuit that will be decided after the election."
In November, Palo Alto voters will be asked to approve the scaled-down version of the Sand Hill project that was adopted by the City Council three weeks ago. At the same time they also will be presented with an initiative by Mid-Peninsula Action for Tomorrow (MPACT), a citizens group that has proposed much greater modifications in Stanford's project.
"I still believe there are inadequacies in the (Sand Hill) EIR (environmental impact report)," Collacchi said. "But I don't believe correcting the EIR is enough."
The reaction among Collacchi's supporters "has varied from dismay to rage," said Watson. "No one can really understand it."
Watson said some of Collacchi's supporters are now talking about mounting a recall campaign.
"People are beginning to talk about a recall," Watson said. "He would have to reverse his vote and apologize" to stay in office.
Watson called Collacchi's vote "a terrible betrayal."
"I'm real concerned that people are upset," Collacchi said on Wednesday. He said he planned to talk to people who are angry about his vote.
City Council members Bob Burmeister and Bernie Nevin also voted against the lawsuit, which was done in closed session and then announced afterward in open session. "The council has been in the position for a long time that we're not happy with the entire project," Burmeister said. But a lawsuit over the adequacy of the EIR wouldn't satisfy those concerns. "My feeling is a lawsuit over that will not have positive results," he added.
In thinking ahead, Collacchi noted that "the road is the key," meaning the part of Sand Hill Road that is in Menlo Park, not in Palo Alto. If Menlo Park refuses to widen the road's bridge over San Francisquito Creek, it would make widening Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto awkward.
Dan Dippery of Menlo Park, an MPACT member, was one of those surprised by Collacchi's vote. "This was not a key element of the MPACT strategy," Dippery said of a possible Menlo Park legal challenge. "But there is a sense of betrayal and a deep sense of confusion" over Collacchi's vote.
"I have a lot of respect for Paul and his courage in doing what he believed in," said Mayor Steve Schmidt, "although I disagree with the outcome."
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