A group of residents called Save our Menlo Park Neighborhoods has filed a lawsuit over a recent City Council decision to install sidewalks on Sharon Road near La Entrada Middle School, claiming that the approved sidewalk will result in "significant physical change and harm to the existing environment."
The lawsuit argues that the sidewalk plans don't comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and asks that the approvals be invalidated "unless and until" the city complies with "the applicable requirements of state and local law, including CEQA."
The lawsuit springs from the City Council's Jan. 26 decision to approve sidewalks on Sharon Road between Alameda de las Pulgas and Altschul Avenue, after hearing public comment and deliberating for about five hours over whether to install raised sidewalks or an asphalt strip to the side of the road with restricted parking during the day, but with parking allowed at night.
The sidewalks were favored by the Complete Streets Commission, which had previously voted in support, while the asphalt strip was the option recommended by city staff. Staff favored the asphalt strip because it would be wider, making it more maneuverable for students traveling in groups, and was the lowest-cost option with fewer impacts to the frontages of the properties on the street, according to a staff report.
The council ultimately approved the raised sidewalk because it would offer a car-free walkway for pedestrians of all ages, especially the children who walk to and from nearby La Entrada Middle School, while the asphalt strip would not guarantee car-free pedestrian access all the time. In approving the sidewalks, the council also eliminated street parking on that section of Sharon Road and agreed to narrow the street.
Council members decided against the asphalt strip in part because it would not offer guaranteed compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act since, if a car was parked there, there would likely not be enough room for wheelchair access.
"Obviously, this project is about making Menlo Park streets safer for everyone, and that's an underlying goal of the council, and that was a specific goal of this project," said Menlo Park Mayor Drew Combs. "I'm obviously disappointed that it has come to this."
He added that the city planned to respond to the lawsuit.
At the time the sidewalks were approved, the primary opponents were residents or property owners on Sharon Road, or their friends, who argued that the raised sidewalks would hurt the street's rural feel, that sidewalks might make the road look wider and encourage faster driving, and that the road has had no major injuries in many years. Many also objected to the fact that adding a sidewalk would mean removing the roughly 11 street parking spots from that stretch of the road.
Back in February 2019, the only named plaintiff in the lawsuit, Pat Connolly, asked the City Council via email to consider installing a sidewalk on the nearby Harkins Avenue instead of on Sharon Road.
In a statement made on behalf of his clients, attorney Ryan Patterson, who represents the group of residents who filed the lawsuit, said that his clients are "a group of neighbors who will be harmed by the city’s decision" and that they "were forced to file a lawsuit challenging the city’s illegal approval of the sidewalk plan."
"We hope the city will reconsider its decision and adopt a context-sensitive solution for each 'complete streets'” project," he added.
In the statement, Patterson criticized the volunteer Complete Streets Commission that advises the City Council.
"The Complete Streets Commission has indicated that it’s tired of listening to residents who had lived on a street for 30 years, and that they want to implement a 'standard solution' for the whole city. None of the members of the Complete Streets Commission has a degree in transportation engineering or works in a related field, so the result is unsurprising: an out-of-date process, a more dangerous project, destruction of natural resources, and a streetscape that will be harder for disabled residents to navigate," he said.
So far, a case management conference has been set for May 25. The city was served with the lawsuit last week and the City Council will discuss the suit in closed session at its April 6 meeting, according to City Attorney Nira Doherty.
One law passed by the state last year, Senate Bill 288, may come into play: it appears to exempt projects related to public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, sustainability and safety from having to undergo an analysis for environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Access the full lawsuit here: