American Canyon traffic (copy)

American Canyon on June 18 passed its Broadway District Specific Plan to improve and beautify Highway 29 through the city. A Davis-base group called California Clean Energy Committee is challenging the approval in Napa County Superior Court.

A lawsuit claims American Canyon’s ideas to transform car-centric Broadway – aka Highway 29 – into a pedestrian-and-cyclist-friendly main drag with more residences and businesses has flaws that need mending.

City officials at a June 18 City Council meeting praised the Broadway District Specific Plan. They talked about creating over two decades a coherent, appealing look amid what is now a hodgepodge of highway-fronting developments and vacant lots.

“The whole purpose of this is to breathe life into our main street of American Canyon, the central part of town ....” Community Development Director Brent Cooper said.

But Davis-based California Clean Energy Committee claims the Broadway plan vision would generate too much traffic and provide too little affordable housing. It wants a Napa County Superior Court judge to tell the city to do more work on the project’s environmental impact report.

“If the city is allowed to proceed with the project, irreparable harm will result to the environment and the public,” said the lawsuit filed by the nonprofit corporation.

Whatever happens will affect one of Napa County’s busier roadways that is used by residents throughout the region as a link between Napa and Solano counties, as well as by American Canyon residents. Caltrans estimates about 49,000 vehicles travel this stretch of Highway 29 daily.

The City Council on June 18 and July 2 granted various approvals for the Broadway District Specific Plan. This plan establishes zoning and development standards for 1,200 new apartments, townhouses and other residences and 840,000 square feet of new commercial space along 292 acres at various locations.

American Canyon wants to widen Highway 29 from two lanes each direction to three lanes and to lower the speed limit from 55 mph and 50 mph to 35 mph. Lower speeds would allow for narrower lanes. Features such as landscaped medians would be added.

Cooper talked at the meeting about creating a family- friendly area with a sense of place. New architecture would favor the “modern farmhouse” and “modern industrial” look.

California Clean Energy Committee in its lawsuit accused American Canyon of underestimating the magnitude of future traffic congestion and overestimating the traffic relief that a wider road might bring.

“Building increased highway capacity increases vehicle miles traveled and related impacts,” the lawsuit stated. “Over the long term, it helps create more automobile-dependent transportation systems and land use patterns.”

California Clean Energy Committee wants the city to explore providing free or discounted bus passes and possibly paying for them with development fees or annual charges to land uses that impact the transportation system. It suggested letting traffic lights stay green for buses and installing bus bypass lanes at congested intersections.

People would use 802,935 gallons of motor fuel annually in connection with the Broadway plan, the project’s environmental impact report found. It concluded the plan would not result in unnecessary, wasteful or inefficient use of fuel.

“That conclusion is not supported by substantial evidence,” the lawsuit stated.

California Clean Energy Committee wants American Canyon to explore paid public parking as a way to reduce driving. Adding free parking contributes to greater traffic congestion, reduces energy efficiency and increases air pollution, the lawsuit stated.

The city in an earlier letter responding to California Clean Energy Committee points said the state doesn’t require environmental impact reports to mitigate for adding parking.

California Clean Energy Committee is headed by attorney Eugene Wilson. News report shows it has sued over a Lake Tahoe resort, Turlock’s general plan, San Jose’s general plan, a Hilmar dairy farm expansion and a Pasadena power plant.

Wilson couldn’t be reached for a comment to say why the nonprofit corporation is focusing on an American Canyon plan. However, the group previously submitted comments on the city’s Watson Ranch plan.

California Clean Energy Committee’s 2017 public Internal Revenue Service filing shows the organization had $1.3 million in assets. Wilson is listed as president with a 40-hour work week and $100,000 in compensation from the organization.

The lawsuit said the organization’s supporters in American Canyon and surrounding areas will be directly and adversely impacted by the Broadway District Specific Plan. Individual members of the public are without a practical way to enforce the California Environmental Quality Act with regards to the project, it said.

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent American Canyon from granting development approvals related to the Broadway District Specific Plan pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

It’s unclear how much of a development delay, if any, might result from the lawsuit.

City Attorney William Ross said the Broadway District Specific Plan covers more than 40 parcels. The city isn’t in a position to say what each owner wants to do, he said, though several of them anticipate moving ahead with projects in a reasonable amount of time.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.