Santa Clara settles with train crash victim’s family for $3.5 million

Santa Clara lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved a hefty $3.5 million settlement agreement with the family of a Santa Clara woman who was struck by an Amtrak train at the Lafayette Street and Agnew Road intersection in Jan. 2017.

On the morning of Jan. 13, 2017, Bridget Lo was driving eastbound on Agnew Road when she stopped at a traffic signal behind another car in the left turn lane of the intersection, according to a complaint filed by Lo’s husband, Lawrence Lo, in March 2018.

At the time of the collision, Lo’s car has passed the railroad crossing gates and signals. A southbound Amtrak train struck the car and caused it to spin out, strike a pole and come to a stop east of the tracks, according to the complaint. Lo, who was 65, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The family is alleging that the intersection is unsafe. From Lo’s eastern approach, the traffic light could be seen but the train crossing warnings were not visible from that angle, the complaint alleged, causing Lo to be stuck in a dangerous position.

Santa Clara was named as a defendant since it is responsible for maintaining the road, along with Santa Clara County, National Railroad Passenger Corporation — Amtrak’s parent company— and the Union Pacific Railroad Corporation.

Santa Clara spokeswoman Lenka Wright says that the city is not admitting fault for the accident, but has since increased the clearance time to the California Public Utilities Commission’s recommended 18 seconds. This allows more vehicles to pass over the tracks when a train approaches.

“The plaintiffs allege that the configuration of the Lafayette and Agnew intersection, that’s directly adjacent to the railroad crossing, was dangerous in its design, maintenance and operation,” Wright told San José Spotlight in an email. “The city of Santa Clara is empathetic about how this tragic accident has affected the surviving family members of Mrs. Bridget Lo and this settlement provides a resolution without either party having to endure a lengthy trial with legal uncertainty, or incur a great deal of non-recoverable litigation-related expense.”

The settlement was approved Tuesday on the consent calendar with little discussion from city lawmakers.

“In lieu” fees aim to balance housing growth with parks

Also Tuesday, Santa Clara officials proposed options for phasing in higher parks fees for developers, an attempt to increase parks fees to ensure the city is recovering 100 percent of its parks development costs.

At its Aug. 28 meeting, the council supported spreading out the increases over multiple years to ensure housing developers aren’t discouraged by higher fees when housing is so sorely needed — while still funding city parks and their amenities. As it stands now, the city is sometimes unable to afford certain amenities, such as restrooms or play structures for the new parks.

“If we want to have those things, we have to have another discussion on how to fund them,” said Councilmember Teresa O’Neill, who expressed doubt that the city would ever be able to charge the full 100 percent park fees needed to establish and maintain parks.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor sympathized with O’Neill’s frustration, but stressed the importance of reducing burdens on developers who are already facing increasing costs to build housing.

“It really was a policy decision for us because, first of all, the values of the land went up so dramatically so our park fees went up so dramatically as well,” Gillmor said. “That and the cumulation of all the different fees the city charges is really discouraging some of our higher density residential developers.”

The council voted unanimously to phase in the costs over a four-year period — raising the per-capita amount of $807 in 2018 an additional $666 per year until it hits $3,471 in 2022. It also voted to revisit the annual construction cost index in two years to make any potential adjustments.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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