Judge: Danville must rescind 69-home project approval amid bike-safety review

Town won't appeal ruling, working to complete bicycle-impact study for proposed SummerHill Homes development

A Contra Costa County judge last week ruled the town of Danville must rescind its previous approval of a 69-home development on Magee Ranch and reconsider the project after conducting full public analysis of the potential bicycle-safety impacts of the developer's proposal.

The decision by Judge Barry Goode on Thursday came after the First District Court of Appeal last September upheld another local judge's ruling that Danville officials violated state environmental law by failing to adequately investigate whether the SummerHill Homes development would have significant impacts on bicycle safety on Diablo Road.

"We feel very pleased that we are going to get the type of analysis there should be," said attorney Stuart Flashman, who represents Save Open Space-Danville (SOS-Danville) -- the environmental advocacy group that filed suit after the Town Council endorsed the housing project in 2013.

Town officials will not appeal last week's court decision, according to Danville city attorney Rob Ewing.

"The town accepts the ruling and will be moving forward to implement it," Ewing said in an email Monday.

The Town Council will vote to rescind its prior approval of the 69-home development during a yet-unscheduled upcoming meeting, Ewing said. The bicycle-impact study, which is underway, will be released for public review when completed before heading to the council for final consideration, he added.

"Bicyclists' lives are at risk every day in the most dangerous stretch of the Diablo Road corridor," Maryann Cella, SOS-Danville spokesperson, said in a statement Monday. "Yet the Danville Town Council has fought in court ... for the last three years so that the council could ignore bicyclist safety in the SummerHill Homes 'Magee Ranches' environmental impact report."

Thursday's decision, according to Cella, means "the council will finally be required to do an analysis of the impact of the nearly 1,000 more car trips per day from the SummerHill Homes' development on the over 100,000 bicyclists trips that we believe occur in the Diablo Road corridor every year."

SummerHill Homes representatives declined to comment Monday afternoon. The company's project, proposed for the southeast corner of Diablo and McCauley roads, has remained in limbo amid nearly three years of litigation.

County Superior Court Judge Steven K. Austin dealt the first major ruling in July 2014, finding the town violated its general plan when rezoning agricultural Magee Ranch land to planned unit development (P-1) to accommodate the housing project.

Austin's was a mixed ruling, as he also threw out all but one of SOS-Danville's arguments that the town failed to adequately assess specific environmental impacts, siding with the town in all areas except for bicycle safety.

The Town Council appealed, and the appellate court in September reversed the decision on the general plan issue, determining that Danville officials did not violate state planning law in their rezoning of the Magee Ranch site and the move was consistent with the general plan -- the central issue of the lawsuit, according to both sides.

The Court of Appeal did uphold the county judge's finding on bicycle safety, ruling the town failed to adequately address the project's potential impacts on cyclists during its environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The case returned to Contra Costa court to resolve the bicycle-safety review. It was transferred to Goode after Austin was named Contra Costa County Superior Court's presiding judge, according to Flashman.

The two sides were split on how to proceed.

"The town and SummerHill asked the Superior Court to allow the project approvals to remain in place, rather than rescind them, while we prepare the updated bike study, circulate it for public comment and then bring it back to the Town Council for approval," Ewing said.

SOS-Danville disagreed, arguing the project should be reconsidered as a whole in light of whatever findings are made in the bicycle-impact study and during the public comment period on bike safety.

"It's like the town saying, 'We're going to do a neutral analysis to show there's no impact,'" Flashman said. "It's starting off by saying there are no problems, when it's supposed to start off neutrally."

The judge denied Danville officials' request and ordered the town to rescind its 2013 project approval and initiate a new public approval process.

"We hope that if the council decides to re-approve the development, it will as a condition of approval of the project provide for significantly increased bicyclist safety in the form of safe bicycle lanes," Cella said.

If the project is again approved, town officials will have to go back to court and show they met all requirements under CEQA.

And SOS-Danville will be keeping a close eye, according to Flashman: "We're basically going to be watch-dogging what the town does from here."

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31 people like this
Posted by Dan Davis
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 7:56 am

I drove Diable Rd recently between Green Valley and turn off to Mt. Diablo. I don't understand why that portion isn't already closed to bicyclists. Between the curves and no bicycle lanes it's extremely unsafe.

6 people like this
Posted by holmes
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 8:20 am

Lets see:
- 1,000 more car trips a day for 69 additional homes = 15 per house...hmm!
- Over 100,000 bike trips a year = Over 274 bike trips on the average day...hmm!

Sounds like the President's admin math, and positioning.

Safety, of course should be fully studied but are these numbers real? There are roads that are closed to trucks of certain sizes for safety. Should there be roads closed to bikes due to safety. What action will be taken if the number of bike trips exceeds an avg of 274/day? SOS-Danville forgot to add; 69 homes will lead to 25 extra bike rides a day, further supporting their point...I GUESS!

17 people like this
Posted by Richard Werhen
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 9:20 am

How much of the taxpayers $ has the Danville Town Council spent on legal fees during their support of the Summerhill development?

9 people like this
Posted by Arlene
a resident of Diablo
on Mar 22, 2016 at 9:43 am

Good News!! Thanks SOS-Danville for all your hard work in preserving the public's will and safety!! Bicycle safety needs to be at a high priority.

9 people like this
Posted by SOS-Danville Group
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 12:43 pm

NUMBER OF CARTRIPS FROM THE PROJECT: The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) dated November 2012 for the “Magee Ranches” project, prepared for the Town of Danville by Denise Duffy & Associates (and paid for by SummerHill Homes), states that “the project (with a minimum of 25% of the properties assumed to include second dwelling units) would generate 949 daily trips, including 109 AM peak hour trips, 98 school PM peak hour trips, and 80 PM peak hour trips. (p. 4.12-19). Please note that the DEIR, together with the Final EIR, constitute the EIR for the project. A trip made by a resident of the project away from the project and back equals 2 cartrips. A trip made by a non-resident (such as a delivery person or housekeeper) to the project and then away from the project constitutes 2 cartrips.

NUMBER OF BICYCLIST TRIPS PER YEAR: Diablo Road is the gateway to Mt. Diablo State Park for many tens of thousands of bicyclists every year and the number is steadily increasing. In fact, we believe that the number of bicyclists traveling Diablo Road to get to the Park during the 2012/13 fiscal year was probably well over 40,000 judging from the following California State Park System Statistical Reports, found at Web Link .
California State Park System Statistical Reports
Fiscal Year Free Day Use (entering through the north or the south entrances)
2012/13 79,824 (page 21)
2011/12 74,631 “
2010/11 66,965 (page 21)
2009/10 63,845 “
2008/09 53,918 “
2007/08 47,693 “

The “Free Day Use” statistical category is almost exclusively bicycle traffic, rather than pedestrian; very few pedestrians enter the park through either of the two entrance gates because those gates are too far from residential neighborhoods and parking areas outside the park. Information received from Park Superintendent Ryen Goering (Contra Solano Sector Superintendent, California State Parks) indicates that more than half of the counted bicyclists typically enter through the south gate. So that implies that for 2012/2013, over 40,000 cyclists entered the Park through the south gate. And that number is clearly an underestimate, according to information from Superintendent Goering and Supervising Ranger Dan Stefanisko, because many cyclists enter the gates when due to understaffing there is no ranger there to count them (such as on most weekdays).

Based on our observations and information from local bicyclists, we believe that the vast majority of those bicyclists using the South Gate entrance travel east along the narrow, winding, no-shoulder, dangerous section of Diablo Road from Green Valley Road to Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. to get there, rather than traveling from Blackhawk Road west to Mt. Diablo Scenic (a route that also has no bicycle lanes). Most of those bicyclists then travel west along Diablo Road as they return home. In addition some of the bicyclists entering through the north gate park entrance subsequently exit the park through the south gate and then travel west along Diablo Road.
So it is reasonable to believe based on the Park’s counted bicyclists for fiscal year 2012/2013 that there were over 80,000 bicyclist trips on Diablo Road associated with travel to and from Mt. Diablo State Park. Furthermore, there has been a tremendous 67% increase in bicyclists between fiscal years 2007/2008 and 2012/2013, and there is every reason to believe the numbers will continue to grow.

Our estimated 100,000 bicyclist trips per year is based on 40,000 counted cyclists, plus increases since 2012/2013, plus increases to account for a significant undercount due to lack of staffing at the Southgate Road entrance, times 2 trips per cyclist (to the Park and back). That’s 100,000 cyclist trips per year, about 1000 cyclist trips per week.

The tremendous numbers of bicyclists coupled with the high volumes of traffic on Diablo Road have created an intolerably dangerous situation. Although Diablo Road west of Green Valley Road has safe bicycle lanes in both directions, the 1 ½ mile stretch of Diablo Road east of Green Valley Road to Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. (“the stretch”) is narrow, winding, upslope, with virtually no shoulders, limited sightlines, and no bicycle lanes. The stretch is extremely congested with thousands of vehicles every day. Despite the double yellow lines the length of the stretch, many vehicles’ drivers break the law as they veer across the lines to avoid the cyclists. Others slow to well below the speed limit, creating back-ups and the risk of rear-end collisions as they travel behind the cyclists.

Danville police accidents reports show that from 2005 until March 2014 there were 6 bicyclist accidents along the portion of the stretch patrolled by the Danville police. The number of accidents is undoubtedly much higher because of the following: 1. the reports do not even identify whether there was a car or bike involved in many of accidents; 2. Danville’s reports do not include accidents reported to the California Highway Patrol, which patrols the one-mile northern portion of the stretch that is contiguous to the community of Diablo; 3. no police reports ever get taken for some of the accidents. For example, there was a bicyclist/car accident on Diablo Road at Alameda Diablo in March 2015, but by the time CHP arrived, the victim had been taken to the hospital so no report was filed.

16 people like this
Posted by Danville Voter
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 1:11 pm

So I'm still stunned why the vast majority of residents voted last November to re-elect the incumbents, Robert Storer and now the current mayor, Karen Steppar. Did anybody pay attention to the Summerhill situation or the empty new development that has ruined downtown Danville. Why?

12 people like this
Posted by Danville resident
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 5:12 pm

The bottom line is that this proposed development is WAY too big for this challenging area, which has limited infrastructure, narrow winding roads, restricted emergency ingress & egress, existing traffic congestion (bumper to bumper at several times during the day), sensitive and critical habitat, flooding and erosion problems, and overcrowded schools. This project should have been scaled WAY back by the Town of Danville as a condition of approval. But instead of protecting its citizens, the Town of Danville chose to greenlight the project for the developer, then spend our tax dollars fighting side by side with the developer AGAINST its own citizens.

1 person likes this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Danville Voter,

Why not be part of the Solution instead of Criticize the current incumbents. Run for office and make the changes you feel are needed on all of our behalfs?

21 people like this
Posted by Danville Voter
a resident of Danville
on Mar 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Hey Really, loved your comment because I'm Tony Adamich, I ran for Town Council and lost to the incumbents although my platform was built on the illegality of Summerhill, supporting a downtown that is now wrought with shops going out of business etc etc. I couldn't break the Town Council mold but will definitely support future candidates that bring innovative and effective programs to our Town.

8 people like this
Posted by Add to the Car Count
a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2016 at 7:32 am

The traffic on Diablo Road has increased significantly over the past 12-18 months as more and more cars are coming from Dublin down Camino Tassajara and clogging both Sycamore and Diablo Rd. Especially if there is an accident on 580 or 680, its a straight shot from the outlet center exit in Livermore through Danville. As more of that area is developed this traffic will continue to increase - does the Danville Town Council have a plan for that traffic? How many car trips does that traffic currently and in the future add to Diablo Road?

Like this comment
Posted by Adamich was wrong
a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2016 at 8:59 am

So, didn't the court of appeal ultimately rule that Measure S was not violated, so Adamich's argument regarding the illegality of the development was wrong?

The bicycle safety issue is a separate issue for the environmental impact report, and doesn't have anything to do with Measure S, right?

5 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2016 at 9:52 am

The traffic and safety issues along that corridor is ridiculous.
The Town Council needs to plant there butts over there and go LOOK before being in the bag for development over safety and congestion.
This project needs to go back for a vote of the people and maybe at the same time a re-vote on the Council members. Great job SOS keep the pedal to the medal.

6 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Building houses on that parcel is / was absurd. Gimme a break. All about $$ for these developers and builders. They could care less about the community at large. Unbelievable greed.

Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2016 at 7:31 am

Why do politicians generally, and CA politicians in particular, get so bound up in their underwear? Fix the road (which is decades delinquent) and build the homes. Stop the studies, already - a politicians and quislings (but I repeat myself) way to avoid making a decision.

Like this comment
Posted by david
a resident of Green Valley Elementary School
on Mar 24, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Bottom line is still the same---people do not want more houses built next to them and are selfish. Once they have their homes and views (which were someone else's views) then they want to keep everyone out. I guess these folks do not read the newspapers about the huge housing shortage in the Bay Area---or they do and love the shortage so that it drives up the values of their homes---This project will be built and just cost so much more than it should have---selfish people not withstanding

Like this comment
Posted by david
a resident of Green Valley Elementary School
on Mar 24, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Bottom line is still the same---people do not want more houses built next to them and are selfish. Once they have their homes and views (which were someone else's views) then they want to keep everyone out. I guess these folks do not read the newspapers about the huge housing shortage in the Bay Area---or they do and love the shortage so that it drives up the values of their homes---This project will be built and just cost so much more than it should have---selfish people not withstanding

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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