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Resident group sues city over planned Sharon Road sidewalks

Sidewalks approved on Sharon Road between Altschul and Alameda de las Pulgas are the subject of a new lawsuit filed by residents who oppose them. Courtesy city of Menlo Park.

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.

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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.

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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:

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Resident group sues city over planned Sharon Road sidewalks

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Sat, Apr 10, 2021, 8:30 am

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:

Comments

gps
Registered user
Las Lomitas School
on Apr 10, 2021 at 9:27 am
gps, Las Lomitas School
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 9:27 am

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]
Build the sidewalk. The environment has already been destroyed by the continued presence of toxic people like this.


Laurel Mom
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 10, 2021 at 3:46 pm
Laurel Mom, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 3:46 pm

Wow, what a mysterious complaint. The addition of sidewalks will make the neighborhood *better* and friendlier. When we bought our house in the Willows, we were drawn to the neighborhood because it has sidewalks. People are always out walking, and the community feel is wonderful. The areas of Menlo Park that don't have sidewalks are less safe and I would not feel as comfortable walking as I do in our neighborhood that has sidewalks. We hate walking along Coleman toward Lower Laurel, where there is no sidewalk. I wish we could have a sidewalk added there.

It's quite funny (ridiculous) that the neighbors are trying to preserve a "rural feel." Menlo Park is a suburb, not a rural community. The density of housing has already established its suburban character. If these neighbors want to live in a rural area, they can move to one.

I suspect that the neighbors are sad about the loss of some parking spaces, and the arguments about the "rural feel" are specious. Either that, or they're very confused about what actually makes a neighborhood a friendly and desirable place to live. In my view, a neighborhood is lovely when neighbors can chat on the sidewalk and children can walk safely to school.


MP Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 10, 2021 at 5:27 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 5:27 pm

Disappointing it came to this. Also disappointing that respondents are attacking people instead of an argument.

Neighbors prefer a wide asphalt strip and parking restrictions when kids would be passing. This was recommended by staff, who our taxes are paying for their expertise. Wanting what staff proposed hardly makes these people idiots or not understanding what makes a neighborhood.

The Complete Streets committee wants a standard solution for the city. Maybe that is valid, but maybe not. They are volunteers serving on a committee, which is generous of them, but having them set policy for the city is overreach.

I think Council made the wrong call on this. Following staff's recommendation while satisfying the people most impacted would have been the right move. Hopefully, they can work this out without a big, expensive legal fight where no one wins.


Janet Chen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:07 pm
Janet Chen, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:07 pm

NIMBYs gonna NIMBY on everything.

As much as I hate it, it's about time to strip away local control and move the decision making to the center on what gets built and where.

And get rid of CEQA. It's done enough environmental damage already. So excited for the upcoming fire season.

The only way out is to build dense to save our economy and our planet. Ban single family zoning.

Oh and about time we got rid of prop 13 subsidies for the boomers sitting on multi-million dollars in equity and who are on the frontlines of all this NIMBYism. Always.


winston katz
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 12, 2021 at 12:50 pm
winston katz, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 12:50 pm

- have to agree. the lack of sidewalks is appalling, not quaint, down home, village like nor anything of the sort. It looks cheap and unfinished. It is equally appalling that anyone would oppose sidewalks in their neighborhood, especially in a high traffic area, on a school route AND lots of seniors. Gimme a break


suburban park resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 12, 2021 at 2:10 pm
suburban park resident, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 2:10 pm

Seems like this is all about parking. Sidewalks make it safer for pedestrians, especially for kids and the elderly.


Robert Cronin
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 12, 2021 at 11:11 pm
Robert Cronin, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 11:11 pm

A street without sidewalks is a street for cars, not people.


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