ALBANY -- Two lawsuits have been filed to stop the University Village project approved by the City Council in July.
The lawsuits seek to invalidate the project's environmental impact report by raising questions about the report's legitimacy because of alleged violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.
The University of California development would bring a Whole Foods Market and senior housing to land running along San Pablo Avenue.
"This is very important for the entire city of Albany," said Albany resident Eric Larsen, who filed one of the suits. "We're talking about the difference between a regional shopping center and a local grocery store. We would like to see development of a project that is local and sustainable in nature."
The first suit was filed Aug. 17 by Albany Strollers and Rollers, an unincorporated group that advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians in Albany. The suit alleges that the Albany City Council, in approving the project, "failed to proceed in the manner required by law in preparing and certifying the EIR," and that "the EIR is inadequate as an informational document."
Specifically, Albany Strollers and Rollers disputes the EIR's consideration of greenhouse gasses and climate change and the effects of the project on bicyclists and pedestrians. The suit asks that the city be compelled to void its approval of the project and asks the court to take jurisdiction of the matter until the city
The second suit was filed Aug. 20 by Larsen, a member of the Albany Farm Alliance. In it, Larsen alleges the city improperly certified the EIR "without adequately analyzing impacts to agricultural resources, without meaningfully considering less harmful alternatives, and without adopting all feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to avoid project's significant impacts."
The EIR found that the project would "significantly impact transportation, circulation and parking in the area," according to the suit. It also states that an alternative was presented that would have reduced the effects while meeting most of the project objectives. That alternative would have reduced the size of the grocery store and the residential development.
Larsen said the EIR found that a smaller project would have met all project objectives except for providing outdoor seating. However, the city's "statement of overriding considerations" found that the alternative would not meet the project's objectives.
Larsen's suit also alleges that the city did not consider all environmental impacts, specifically the adjacent land known as the "Gill Tract." That land is currently used by the university for agricultural research and has been a source of controversy. A group called "Occupy The Farm" took over the land for a month in April, and has continued to break into the land to tend to crops planted there.
"The city's certification of the EIR without adequately analyzing the project's impacts on agricultural resources constitutes a prejudicial abuse of discretion by withholding important information from concerned members of the public and city decision-makers, fails to proceed in the manner required by law, and is not supported by substantial evidence."
The suit requests a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing the project from moving forward as well as a writ forcing Albany to vacate the certification of the EIR and its approval of the project.
Albany City Attorney Craig Labadie couldn't comment on the specifics. But he said the city will begin the process of responding by collecting the administrative record, including all public comments. That will take a minimum of 60 days. Then, the city has 30 days to file an answer.
The university had no comment on the lawsuits.