The San Carlos City Council’s approval of restriping Holly Street into a multi-lane road with significant restricted street parking violated environmental and open meeting laws, according to two residents who filed suit Wednesday in a bid to stop the upcoming work.
But City Attorney Greg Rubens says the lawsuit, which said includes misconceptions about the legal requirements of the city’s actions, is “no impediment” to the work.
Notices were expected to go out to residents and property owners Thursday with work beginning Sept. 15 or 16, said Public Works Director Jay Walter.
However, the lawsuit filed by Rick Martinez and Alicia Cabrera argues that the vote allowing the changes to Holly Street is invalid because residents were not given enough notice of the council meeting and the city did not first undertake an environmental impact report on the project.
In July, the council voted 3-2, with councilmen Matt Grocott and Cameron Johnson dissenting, to prohibit parking on the city’s main gateway between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays as a way to ease congestion by restriping it two lanes in both directions.
Residents of Holly Street and the Greater East San Carlos neighborhood were outraged about the loss of their parking for the majority of the day and some argued the changes were unnecessary.
Martinez said Thursday that the issue is less about parking as it is public safety and the city fast-tracking a project that will substantially change Holly Street’s character without adequate environmental review. The city used a parking ordinance to disguise its actual plan of restriping the street from two to four lanes, he said.
“It is a blatant attempt to pull the wool over our eyes,” Martinez said.
Rubens said the California Environmental Quality Act makes exemptions for some city actions like restriping of streets which it leaves to the authority of the public works director. Otherwise, for example, cities would spend extra time and money on environmental reviews every time a curb needed red paint.
The planned parking changes were the only aspect that required council approval, Rubens said.
“We’re very comfortable that we’re on solid ground with these exemptions,” he said.
The lawsuit also challenges the city’s timeline of approval, claiming the 4x7 postcard notice mailed to residents was inadequate because it failed to specify that the proposed parking ordinance included the bigger project. Therefore, the public couldn’t decide whether to attend the July 14 public meeting and speak up, Martinez said.
If so, Rubens said, why where the council chambers filled to capacity at the meeting?
“Virtually the entire neighborhood turned out,” Rubens said. “Nobody was confused by this alleged notice.”
The notice was just a courtesy anyway and not legally required, he said.
Martinez countered that turnout should not be mistaken for the adequate notice required.
The lawsuit includes other disagreements over technicalities. Martinez claims a July 28 letter sent to the city and Rubens informed them they violated the Brown Act with its lack of notice. Another letter was sent Aug. 14. Rubens said the first letter was not a legal notice to fix an alleged violation because it was only one paragraph in a bigger message about a pending public records act request.
Prior to the lawsuit’s filing, the Greater East San Carlos neighborhood group ramped up opposition efforts by posting about 100 signs claiming the changes of the street into the “Holly Highway” are a threat to children’s safety.
GESC President Ben Fuller said the lack of an EIR means the city is not interested at looking at traffic-easing alternatives like Brittan Avenue, Harbor Boulevard or Crestview Drive.
“Holly Street is certainly part of the solution but is it the only game in town?” he asked.
Mayor Mark Olbert said he is disappointed with the lawsuit because, while individuals have the right to sue, the litigation will now likely stymie conversations on potential mitigation measures like larger driveways.
“We directed staff to come back with potential improvements to deal with the consequences. I was looking forward to having those discussions in September but now I’m not sure what will happen. It would be a little awkward to have those conversations with a lawsuit happening,” he said.
While he understands the arguments about pedestrian and children’s safety, Olbert said he disagrees with the lawsuit’s contention about the street’s overhaul altering the neighborhood.
“It’s been a major road and artery for a long time, at least a generation,” Olbert said. “I feel for the people who are there but in terms of extending the parking restrictions, I hardly think it fundamentally changes the character of the street.”
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