City Council Returns to Action; Trestle Dispute Tops Agenda

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:

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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.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

8 Comments

  1. Pension reform settlement out of the way? Are you serious? Please show me the final compensation agreement. The city has not even agreed on a wage package … Try to do a little homework.

  2. If District 6 doesn’t want that prefab bridge, we’ll take it over here in District 9. It would be nice to have a river crossing where Chynoweth bridge was supposed to go over the Guadalupe.

    One issue I can see with trying to keep the trestle. I learned the other night that wood pilings only stay fresh when they’re submerged in water. That creek’s been rather dry, and before that it was on/off rain. There’s an excellent chance that under the soil, is rotted, termite and worm infested wood.

  3. When I see photos of “The WG Trestle” all I see is a broken down wooden structure that has not been used as a railroad bridge for many years, is peppered with gang graffiti, and is an obvious safety hazard. Larry Ames, Marvin Bamburg, Martha Hendricks, Jean Dresden, Susan Landry, and the other preservationazis see some historically significant structure. As such, they want it saved, and have waged a war that has cost them little but has cost the taxpayers of San Jose over $500k so far and will continue to cost the taxpayers of San Jose as long as this dispute continues in the courts. The city will also have to pay for an EIR if the Sixth District Court of Appeal upholds Judge Huber’s well-reasoned opinion that the city should have conducted an EIR when this matter came before the council earlier. It seems unlikely to me that the Sixth District panel will overturn Judge Huber. This dustup is over a structure that I doubt more than 1% of San Jose’s population could locate on a map of Willow Glen, let alone have any interest in seeing or preserving. But as Judge Huber pointed out in his July 2014 ruling granting the preservationazis’ petition to require the city to have an EIR prepared, The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) clearly requires an EIR under the circumstances. Under the circumstances of this case, it seems to me that CEQA Guidelines go way too far; but the remedy there is not to ignore them as City Attorney Rick Doyle did when he advised the council on the issue, but for the people to support legislation to pare back CEQA guidelines that allows anyone with a favorite dilapidated structure to require a public agency to pay for an expensive EIR. As those guidelines stand, any tiny group of radical preservationazis such as Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle can cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars at little cost to themselves in order to preserve a broken down bridge that is of significance to them and to them alone. My gut reaction is that if the Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle like it so much, let them pay for the rehabilitation, retrofitting, or whatever they want in order to preserve it. Taxpayer money would be far better spent fixing up San Jose’s Third World roads than retrofitting a broken down trestle that few people know about and even fewer have seen or care to see. However, reading Judge Huber’s opinion (thanks for the link, Jenn), it is abundantly clear to me that the major reason for the waste of taxpayer money in this instance is City Attorney Rick Doyle’s bad advice given to the council in the first place, which resulted in a Mitigated Negative Declaration instead of an EIR; and Mr. Doyle’s additional poor advice about opposing the lawsuit and appealing the adverse decision. Judge Huber shot down Mr. Doyle’s positions on every issue. Sound familiar? With two such monumental and costly screw ups by Mr. Doyle, and I am confidant there are others given the poor quality of the legal arguments he submitted to Judge Huber on the WG Trestle issue, why does he still hold his job?

    • The poor, oppressed, overburdened taxpayers need a creative, “outside the box” resolution.

      Could a public spirited amateur archeologist possibly “discover” that the original builders of the trestle had carved a Confederate flag in the main support timbers?

      It would then be mandatory to demolish the structure, level the site, sow salt in the earth, erect barbed wire around the location to discourage veneration by wannabe slave owners, and erase any mention of the trestle or site on maps and in historical records.

      We can learn from the Taliban about how to handle these things.

  4. “Pension reform settlement out of the way” , are you high ? its a long way from over. This city could do the right thing and just admit Measure B was an absolute failure .Follow thru with “Quo Warranto” , but they won’t simply because they will NEVER admit they made a mistake. So they will let it go back to the voters. Which if NOT approved will start the Court Cases up , right where they left off

  5. …. and why is the City looking to hire an outside entity to audit ANYTHING when the City has a full time AUDITOR ON ITS PAYROLL?

    SJI pretends to be so adept at invetigative journalism and critical thinking but fails to acknowledge it’s favorite Auditor Sharon Erickson?? Really pathetic…

  6. — “The city is looking for an outside consultant to audit its sales, phone and utility tax revenues.”

    Somehow I doubt our city leaders are considering LaDoris Cordell for this job… the collection of taxes and fees is no place for proportional racial representation.

  7. City council “returns to action” I just about wet myself reading that headline.