By the Daily Post staff
A neighbor of the Newell Road bridge is suing the city of Palo Alto, saying officials skipped an important step in preparing an environmental report for a replacement bridge that would span San Francisquito Creek.
City Council on June 1 voted unanimously to replace the 118-year-old, 76-foot-long one-lane bridge with a two-lane bridge that would cost $10 million. Replacing the bridge is one part of a multi-year effort to control flooding. The new bridge will improve traffic between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.
Yang Shen, a Palo Alto homeowner whose property is next to the bridge, filed the suit June 30 in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Shen said in the suit that he was told by the city that construction crews would have to remove part of his fence and use a portion of his property during construction.
“Petitioner (Shen) opposes the project as it fails to adequately address the severe negative environmental and health impacts that will be imposed, directly, on the Shen property and its residents, as well as on the residents of the city of Palo Alto and surrounding communities,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit targets the city’s environmental impact report, or EIR, saying it comes up short under the California Environmental Quality Act.
For instance, the act requires the city to consider a range of alternatives to the project that could be built. The EIR looked at five alternatives — keeping the bridge and doing nothing, and four more with different alignments to Newell Road.
But the lawsuit said the city failed to analyze a “common-sense alternative,” removing the Newell Road bridge and not replacing it.
Shen argues that taking out the bridge would be the best way to meet the city’s flood control goals.
In the 1998 flood, debris clogged up the Pope-Chaucer bridge, creating a dam. The water overflowed the bridge and the banks of the creek and poured into Palo Alto’s Downtown North and Menlo Park’s Linfield Oaks neighborhoods, damaging thousands of homes.
Shen’s lawsuit argues if the new Newell Road bridge is built, debris carried downstream during a flood might clog it, as well. Federal and Caltrans standards require two vertical feet of clear space between the top of the water in a 50-year flood and the ceiling of a bridge. But the lawsuit said the new bridge would provide just seven inches of clearance.
“While this is a city of Palo Alto project and not a San Francisquito Creek Joint Power Authority project, anything that delays protecting people’s lives and property on the creek is bad news,” said Gary Kremen, chairman of the joint powers authority.
Shen is represented by Alhambra attorney Paul Gumina.
It wasn’t immediately known if the lawsuit would delay the replacement of the bridge.
The joint powers authority, of which Palo Alto is part of, is currently being sued by a neighbor of the Pope-Chaucer Bridge, saying that agency’s plans to replace the bridge has not been transparent and also found problems with its EIR.