The Presidio Historical Association (PHA) and Sierra Club filed a Federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Feb. 1 to halt proposed new construction on the Main Post of the Presidio of San Francisco.
Recently, the Presidio Trust’s Board of Directors changed restrictive zoning policies that protected the Main Post in order to permit construction of a 14-building hotel, a large addition to a historic theater, and other structures, a move strongly opposed by numerous nonprofit organizations and private citizens.
The lawsuit charges the park’s managing federal agency, the Presidio Trust, with failing to comply with the Presidio Trust Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) when initiating the rezoning.
“The Presidio Trust has violated these statutes in its push to convert the most historically significant site in the Presidio into a luxury hotel despite nearly unanimous public opposition,” said PHA president Gary Widman. “We have no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect this national park, which belongs to all Americans.”
The suit sets a precedent as the first to question activities in a national park that is not managed by the National Park Service.
“The Sierra Club has protected national parks since 1892 and played a major role in the creation of the Presidio National Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area,” said Sierra Club spokesperson Becky Evans. “The unique historic value of the Presidio Main Post should not be sacrificed to build an unnecessary hotel.”
The Sierra Club won a 1986 federal lawsuit that enjoined the U.S. Army from undertaking new construction in the Presidio, a military base at that time. “By filing this suit, the Sierra Club seeks affirmation of that 1986 decision and seeks the Presidio Trust’s compliance with the Presidio Trust Act and other environmental laws,” Evans said.
The lawsuit asserts that the Presidio Trust ignored its duty to “[protect] the Presidio from development and uses which would destroy the historic … character of the area … and other cultural resources,” and failed to limit new construction to one-for-one replacement of demolished structures as required by the Presidio Trust Act.
The plaintiffs also claim that the Trust’s NEPA process was flawed and that the Trust failed to minimize adverse impacts in its National Historic Landmark District to the maximum extent possible as required by the NHPA.
The Presidio Trust Act (PTA) of 1996 recognized and protected the 1,491-acre Presidio of San Francisco as a unique place of history and open space in a densely populated urban center. The Main Post, established in 1776, was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1962. The Presidio was home to Spanish, Mexican, and American military operations for nearly 220 years until the base became a national park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in 1994. More than 30,000 Americans veterans and their families are buried in the Presidio’s National Cemetery, on the western side of the Main Post.
The Stanford Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic is representing the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club in the lawsuit.