Seeking to halt proposed new construction at the Presidio of San Francisco, a local historical association and a national environmentalist group filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the agency that manages the former military base.
The Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club allege that the Presidio Trust violated federal laws with its plan to build a hotel in the section of the park known as the Main Post, the site of most of its historic buildings.
“The single most historic spot they could have put it, that’s where they want to put it,” said Gary Widman, president of the historical association, which has about 250 members. “This is an area that’s of value to the entire country, and you’re supposed to protect it, especially if you’re a federal agency.”
The Presidio Trust was created by Congress in 1996 to manage the interior of the park, while the National Park Service manages coastal areas. The trust was intended to become self-sufficient and has attracted numerous businesses to the 1,500 acre park in service of that goal.
But the plaintiffs argue that the trust’s proposal for 146,500 square feet of new construction in and around the Main Post, including a 14-building hotel, goes too far. They allege that the plan, laid out in a February 2011 document, violated the federal law that created the trust.
“The original trust board put limits on construction in the Main Post,” Widman said. “What Congress had in mind, they called it a trust, they didn’t call it a real estate development agency.”
Trust spokeswoman Dana Polk said the hotel, which probably will not be built any time soon given current economic conditions, would fit in with the site’s historic character.
“We have height guidelines, we have very specific guidelines about how the buildings would look,” she said. “There’s a lot of demand. People have been telling us they’d like to spend a night in the park.”
Polk added that the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have signed off on the plan.
In a statement, Presidio Trust chief Craig Middleton touted the trust’s stewardship of the park, including restoring natural habitats.
“I am proud of our record in preserving the Presidio,” he said. “It is perhaps inevitable that people will occasionally resort to legal action to press their points of view. It is not our preferred way to communicate; we prefer open dialogue and engaged in a three-year public conversation about the future of the Main Post.”
“They’ve done some good things,” said Becky Evans, chair of the Sierra Club’s Presidio Committee. “But they’ve planned a lot of things for a very small area. The Main Post should be more of a place of contemplation, not activity. And certainly not a 14-building hotel.”
Venue: United States District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division
Plaintiffs: The Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club, represented by the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School
Defendant: The Presidio Trust
Allegations: That the Presidio Trust violated the Presidio Trust Act, the National Historical Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by planning to construct several new buildings in the park.