Berkeley, Albany Win Marin Avenue Lawsuit

By Richard Brenneman
Friday August 17, 2007

A California tribunal handed an unqualified defeat this week to Ray Chamberlin and his lawsuit challenging the reconfiguration of Marin Avenue by Berkeley and Albany. 

Chamberlin, a retired engineer and Berkeley hills resident, had won a partial victory in Alameda County Superior Court, but even that was stripped away in the opinion written by Associate Justice William D. Stein, with Justices James J. Marchiano and Douglas E. Swager concurring. 

Both the City of Berkeley and Chamberlin had appealed the Jan. 13, 2006 ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw which handed a victory to Albany and a partial defeat to Berkeley. 

Arguing his own case against lawyers for the two cities, Chamberlin sought to convince the court to order both cities to prepare environmental impact reports (EIRs) examining the full implications of the fait accompli which had transformed the avenue from four lanes to two, adding a two-way center turn lane and a pair of bike lanes. 

Sabraw ruled that Chamberlin had acted too late to sue Albany, filing suit on Feb. 28, 2005, more than two months after Albany approved the project and just making the 30-day period for appealing Berkeley’s Jan. 28 decision. 

Sabraw didn’t require Berkeley to prepare a full EIR, but only to conduct further studies to the degree the city considered appropriate. 

In his argument before the court Chamberlin didn’t seek to enforce his victory against Berkeley absent a finding that would bind both cities to a review of what he argued was a single, integrated project rather than two separate projects. 

While the two cities didn’t prepare a full EIR, they did join in a lesser document, the EIS, or initial study, which the three justices ruled was adequate to justify adoption by both cities of a finding called the Negative Declaration, which holds that there are no adverse affects that can’t be remedied. 

The justices also rejected Chamberlin’s argument that the cities had “piecemealed” the project in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. 

The term applies to large projects that are slipped through the administrative process piece by piece, to avoid an analysis of cumulative impacts. 

“Clearly they didn't care to decide my abstract legal issue,” Chamberlin said. 

The one concession the justices made was to order that their ruling would not be included in the court’s published findings, cases that may be cited as precedents in future lawsuits. 

“We are pleased,” said Deputy City Attorney Zach Cowan. “Now we’re done with that, hopefully, and staff can continue to monitor the traffic situation just as they have been doing all along.” 

The next move is up to Chamberlin. The decision becomes final Sept. 13, leaving him 10 more days to decide if he wants to appeal to the California Supreme Court.