Appellate Court Upholds EIR for Treasure Island Development in San Francisco Bay
In Citizens for a Sustainable Treasure Island v. City and County of San Francisco, (2014) Cal. App. LEXIS 595, the Court of Appeal for the First District affirmed the trial court’s denial of a petition for a writ of mandate challenging the City and County of San Francisco’s (the City) approval of an environmental impact report (EIR) for a major development on Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay (the Project).
The Project includes up to 8,000 residential units, 500 hotel rooms, and other developments on the former Naval Station Treasure Island. The City’s board of supervisors unanimously approved the Project in 2011 after more than a decade of studies and community input.
Citizens for a Sustainable Treasure Island (CSTI) opposed the Project arguing that the EIR was improperly prepared as a project-level EIR and did not contain sufficient detail. However, the court held that regardless of the EIR label as a project-level or program EIR, CEQA would require supplemental review over the 15- to 20-year buildout for any aspects of the Project where the environmental impacts were not fully examined in the original EIR. (Pub. Resources Code section 21166.) As the court stated, the focus for determining the adequacy of an EIR is whether the decision makers have sufficient information to analyze the environmental impacts given the nature of the project, not the label of the EIR.
The court also rejected CSTI’s argument that the EIR was inadequate because the project description was too abstract and only included conceptual descriptions of building and street layouts subject to change. The court emphasized that the EIR and planning documents did contain concrete information about the main features of the Project, which remained consistent throughout the EIR process, and the EIR “cannot be faulted for not providing detail that, due to the nature of the Project, simply does not now exist.”
Next, the court held that the EIR’s discussion about the presence and remediation of hazardous substances on the former Navy base was sufficient. CSTI contended that the EIR was inadequate because it did not specify precisely where and to what extent remediation would be required after development began. Citing the California Supreme Court in Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood (2008) 45 Cal.4th 116, the court stressed that a CEQA analysis may be postponed when project details are not “reasonably foreseeable” at the time that the lead agency approves the project. In this case, the Navy was in the process of cleaning up the contaminated portions of the project site, and intended to complete the cleanup prior to transferring the land for development. Thus, the developer could not be expected to know the precise role that it would play in the investigation and clean up of specific portions of the Project. The EIR identified all of the regulatory standards that would apply should additional remediation be necessary, and as a result, the discussion of hazardous substances on the project site was sufficient.
CSTI also claimed that the EIR had to be recirculated because of new information regarding the Project’s potential interference with the U.S. Coast Guard’s regulation of ship traffic in the San Francisco Bay. A meeting occurred after the public comment period on the Draft EIR that resulted in several potential solutions preventing any impact on Coast Guard operations. The court stated that new information is only significant and requires recirculation of the EIR if the adding of the new information deprives the public of a meaningful opportunity to comment on substantial adverse environmental impacts. In this case though, multiple potential solutions prevented any impact at all and therefore, there was no reason to recirculate the EIR. The court also highlighted CSTI’s failure to set forth the evidence supporting the City’s findings, and then to show why the evidence is lacking.
The court lastly addressed CSTI’s contentions that the EIR’s discussions of historical resource preservation and consistency with tideland trusts were insufficient. In rejecting both arguments, the court emphasized that the EIR was adequate even though the future uses for certain buildings and tidal areas were not yet fully defined, and therefore the EIR could not fully articulate how specific project components would ensure preservation of historical resources and compliance with tidal trust laws. The EIR stated the regulations and processes that the Project would comply with, and the court held that was sufficient for the decision makers to analyze the environmental impacts of the Project.
In several different contexts, the Court reaffirmed that “CEQA requires an EIR to reflect a good faith effort at full disclosure; it does not mandate perfection, nor does it require an analysis to be exhaustive.” The Court also reaffirmed that Petitioners bear the burden of describing the lead agency’s supporting evidence and showing how it is lacking.