CEQA Lawsuit Delays Another Streetscape Improvement

The California Environmental Quality Act, a landmark 1970 environmental law now considered an obstacle to smart growth by some urban planners, has claimed another victim in a project that seeks to reduce car use while promoting biking and walking.

The City of Palo Alto's California Avenue Streetscape Project is based on a controversial lane reduction for this three and one-half block business district that stretches from El Camino Real to the Caltrain station. A local business owner and neighborhood activist sued the city, arguing the city had violated CEQA by issuing a 'negative declaration' as opposed to doing a more thorough environmental analysis, and the judge agreed.

"In her Nov. 9 ruling, Judge Patricia Lucas found flaws with the council's sequence of actions. The city conducted its environmental review for the project at the same time as it was applying for a grant that would pay for the street modifications. Thus, Lucas reasoned, the city settled on its lane-reduction plan, as described in the grant application, before the environmental analysis was complete."

From Palo Alto Daily News: Officials: Ruling doesn't kill Cal Ave project:
"As long as the city complies with the judge's orders, it could still collect the funds from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, said Metropolitan Transportation Commission programming and funding manager Ross McKeown."

From Project Overview/City of Palo Alto:
"The California Avenue Streetscape Project includes improvements between El Camino Real and the Caltrain Station at Park Avenue. The purpose of this project is to help revitalize the street by providing modern street design and amenities that will support the creation of a vibrant pedestrian- and bike -oriented commercial and residential district that builds upon existing public art amenities."

The council had chosen to go ahead with the lane reduction after extensive public outreach.

From Palo Alto On-line, Feb. 14, 2011: Palo Alto council backs lane cuts on Cal Ave: Council hears from dozens of residents, unanimously supports streetscape plan for busy commercial strip: "Palo Alto's plan to transform California Avenue into a two-lane pedestrian-friendly boulevard sped ahead Monday night (Feb. 14) when the City Council unanimously backed the project despite a mixed reception from area merchants."

A similar CEQA suit in 2006 had previously delayed implementation of the San Francisco bike plan for five years.

Thanks to Ellen Fletcher

Full Story: Judge halts plan to cut lanes on Cal Ave

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