Fresh off the July recess, San Jose's City Council reconvenes Tuesday to start a new fiscal year. With a pension reform settlement out of the way, it's time to talk trestle.
Plans to replace the Willow Glen trestle—a timber railroad bridge built in 1922—with a steel pedestrian walkway has the council's approval, despite residents' pleas to preserve it. But there's been a hold-up, which the council will discuss in closed session.
Last year, preservationists won a public-interest lawsuit requiring the city to conduct an environmental review to consider alternatives to demolition. The 2014 ruling by Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Joseph Huber determined that there's substantial evidence that the trestle is a historic landmark, even though it's not listed on any historic register. The judge ordered the city to conduct an environmental review before replacing the bridge.
“If rehabilitation is feasible, demolition is unlawful,” said Susan Brandt-Hawley, attorney for Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle, the group that filed the lawsuit.
The city conducted the environmental review, but is appealing that court decision, saying it would lose state grant money if it delays the Three Creeks Trail project any longer.
"Time is of the essence to proceed with that project because the city is permitted to do the work only during a limited time period," the city argues in its petition to the Sixth District Court of Appeals.
To complete the project before numerous permits expire, the city had to start construction by mid-July, according to the appeal.
"Time is of the essence also for financial reasons," the city added.
Unless construction starts soon, the city could lose a $1.9 million state grant and a $450,000 Santa Clara Valley Water District grant—unless an extension is issued.
On July 21, the city told Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle that it wouldn't need court permission to start tearing down the bridge. Attorneys for the community group cautioned that proceeding would be a "contempt of court."
A week later, the city notified preservationists that they would take the matter to the closed session meeting but refused to rule out the possibility of the council approving immediate demolition.
Then, later last week, the community group's attorney petitioned the appellate court for "an immediate stay."
“The appellant city is inexplicably pursuing demolition of the Willow Glen Trestle, prohibited by the Superior Court’s peremptory writ, without awaiting the resolution of this appeal or subsequent discharge of the writ," the motion read.
Originally, the city planned to connect pedestrian and bike paths across the Los Gatos Creek using the 93-year-old wood bridge. Plans changed last year, when the city proposed razing the old bridge to make way for a new steel walkway. Because the old bridge was never officially listed as a historic landmark, the city eschewed an environmental review and moved forward with plans to demolish it.
A prefabricated bridge slated to replace the wooden trestle is already built and sitting in a warehouse. Preservationists want the city to use the metal bridge in another location.
“We look forward to working with the city," Larry Ames, founder of Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle. "We understand how the city might have felt rushed into a decision to spend a state grant, but just spending a grant to have spent it is a waste of taxpayers’ money, especially if it needlessly destroys the valuable trestle in the process. And it is right for elected officials to change a rushed decision in light of new-found public awareness and support."
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 4, 2015:
- A former aerobics instructor, Lori Cutright, has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.
- The council will certify the June special election results, which made Vietnamese-language publisher Manh Nguyen councilman-elect of the city's north side District 4.
- The city is looking for an outside consultant to audit its sales, phone and utility tax revenues. Last year, sales tax accounted for $168 million in revenue. Phone and utility fees came to $138 million, while lodging taxes came to $44 million.
- San Jose could do a better job penalizing residents for mixing trash in recycling bins, according to an audit of the city's single-family recycling program.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260
This article has been updated.