SAN JOSE -- Residents of San Jose's bayside Alviso neighborhood have sued the city and a developer alleging an approved large-scale manufacturing facility skirts much-needed environmental review.
The contentious 36-acre project -- which sits at the entrance to the city's northernmost community and next to an elementary school -- brought residents to City Hall in June when the City Council approved it on a tight 6-5 vote. Since then, its critics have joined together in the suit alleging that potential adverse health affects from truck traffic needed to be analyzed before moving forward.
"I thought we wouldn't be successful and that it was just the first part of the process in going to court," petitioner Mark Espinoza said about the June meeting, which lasted past 1 a.m. and featured a host of impassioned speakers. "I was surprised that half of them agreed with us."
The lawsuit contends that the facility, which sits off North First Street behind George Mayne Elementary School, was approved based on a 2000 environmental review of a corporate campus at the site and not its recent industrial incarnation.
"The City disingenuously sought to avoid the public disclosure and participation procedures" that a new environmental review would have necessitated, states the suit, which was filed last week in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
City officials argued the report sufficiently covered the environmental impacts, and that industrial was an approved use in the area's master plan.
"The Alviso Master Plan understood there was a school there," said Mayor Chuck Reed at the meeting where the project was approved. "Obviously if you have industrial use across the street from a school, you have provisions and guidelines for what has to be done. This project incorporates those guidelines, and it is consistent with the plan."
The city attorney's was unavailable for comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
The suit also names developer Trammell Crow, which has sought to appease residents since the first model of its development, which was a warehouse and trucking facility with 307 loading docks. The current project calls for 78 docks in three smaller manufacturing buildings, along with an office complex.
But Espinoza's group says that's still way too many and have maintained at repeated meetings that they believe the facility will result in heavy truck traffic and resultant pollution at the school and nearby residential neighborhood. They said the original study took into account more passenger cars due to the larger office park, but not big rigs.
"We think their fears are totally unfounded," said John Greer, head of Texas-based developer Trammell Crowe's Northern California division. "You are talking about a couple hundred truck trips in the course of a 12-hour day. That's negligible opposed to the 5,000 car trips originally envisioned."
He said they spent time mitigating and minimizing any visual and noise problems and found no substantive air quality issues.
Greer said studies back up those conclusions, adding that he believes the lawsuit will ultimately fail.
"We reject this notion out of hand," he said. "The city did a very comprehensive review, and we don't believe this petition has any merit whatsoever."
He said that while a mandatory settlement conference will happen, "we don't think that's going to bear any fruit. We think we will go all the way to trial, and we think we are going to prevail."
The lawsuit does not prevent the project from going forward unless the court grants an injunction, and Trammell Crow plans to keep building up the tall dirt foundations required because the project lies in a floodplain.
Meanwhile, they've installed additional security and cameras after some sabotage occurred shortly after the city approved the project permit -- vandals poured concrete into the exhaust and sand into the hydraulics of on-site heavy machinery.
But despite raising the hackles of some residents, San Jose officials who approved the plan said it's a good thing for the city, bringing in at least 1,200 manufacturing jobs that would otherwise go elsewhere.
"The fact is we want to regain or retain manufacturing jobs, and we have the opportunity to do that today," said Councilman Pete Constant, who was among those who voted to approve the project. "I've heard many times professional staff and colleagues lamenting that companies go to other communities surrounding San Jose. You see major industrial and commercial uses going to those other cities because they are willing to approve these types of plans that help move these projects forward. And we have sat on the sidelines and lamented that they have not come to us."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.