Some who are against the Oak to Ninth project will claim this as a victory, but that's wrong. This doens't throw out the Oakland City Council's approval of the project, as reported elsewhere.
Judge tosses Oak-to-Ninth impact report
New development project write-up in works taking into account court's concerns
By Kelly Rayburn, STAFF WRITER - OAKLAND TRIBUNE
Article Last Updated: 11/21/2007 02:42:49 AM PST
OAKLAND — Two sides are claiming victory this week after a Superior Court judge issued a ruling on two lawsuits that challenged Oakland's massive Oak-to-Ninth development project.
The legal battle pitted the city and project developer Oakland Harbor Partners against the Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt and the Oakland Heritage Alliance over questions of whether the city adequately considered the impact the project will have on the surrounding environment.
The two groups filed separate lawsuits. Judge Jo-Lynne Q. Lee ruled on them simultaneously Friday.
In the ruling, Judge Lee directed the city to "void" its approval of the project's environmental impact report.
"We're pleased," said Brian Gaffney, attorney for the Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt. "My clients are pleased."
The ruling on the environmental impact report was made on what the city considers narrow grounds, however.
City officials say the concerns the judge brought up can be addressed in time.
"It's good," said Alex Katz, spokesman for City Attorney John Russo. "We see it as a win for the city. ... The court upheld the city's position on a majority of issues. It's a big project so it's not unusual for the court to ask the city to amend parts of the EIR."
Katz noted that the judge's ruling to void the environmental document was largely related to the document's analysis of the impact other projects will have in the Oak-to-Ninth area, not the impact the development project itself will have.
The judge also ruled against the Oakland Heritage Alliance in its effort to protect the Ninth Avenue Terminal, most of which would be lost in the city's current plans.
The judge did, however, say analysis of seismic impacts was incomplete.
Project supporters said the ruling did not put the success of Oak-to-Ninth in question. "I doubt it will jeopardize the project," said Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown), adding, "Most problems that can be identified in an EIR can be mitigated, so I anticipate that's what will take place."
There was no word Tuesday from city staff on how long it might take before a new environmental document, one taking the judge's concerns into account, would be back before the City Council.
Oak-to-Ninth developers envision a project that will convert an underused waterfront area east of Jack London Square into a vibrant mini-city.
Plans include building 3,100 homes, retail and commercial areas, about 30 acres of open space and two renovated marinas.
Detractors have decried what they say is insufficient public waterfront access, a lack of affordable housing and poor planning for traffic congestion and air pollution.
The project has been tied up in legal challenges since it was approved in July 2006.
In a separate case, a group collected more than 25,000 signatures, hoping to overturn the City Council's vote through a referendum.
The signatures were ruled invalid by Russo, however, when he determined the wrong version of the ordinance was circulated during signature gathering.
Last week, the referendum group dropped a case seeking to reverse Russo's decision, saying it ran out of money as a December court date approached.
As for the environmental challenges, attorney Arthur Levy, who represented the Oakland Heritage Alliance, said he was disappointed in the ruling on the Ninth Avenue Terminal.
But he added the judge's ruling will give the council the opportunity to reconsider its plans for the terminal since it will have to revisit the overall project.
Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Properties, which joined Reynolds and Brown to form Oakland Harbor Partners, said "overall we're pleased" with the ruling.
"There's always something that can be studied further," he said. "I think on the whole of it, we're excited."
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