Recreation and Park Commission approves Central Subway station design

Union Square. (S.F. Examiner File Photo)

A controversial design plan for the Central Subway’s Union Square station was approved Thursday, but opponents of the project said lawsuits could be coming as a result of the decision.

Because the station will sit on park property, the Recreation and Park Commission was required to sign off on the plan. The commission did so unanimously in the latest hurdle cleared for the $1.6 billion Muni project that will extend underground Metro service from South of Market to Chinatown.

Save Muni, a group long opposed to the Central Subway, has argued that the Union Square station violates aspects of the City Charter, which stipulates that structures on park property must have a recreational purpose. A 59-foot-long transit station does not meet those needs, according to Jerry Cauthen of Save Muni.

However, the City Attorney’s Office disagrees. Citing a 1981 legal opinion that allowed for manhole covers to be placed in public recreation areas, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has cleared Muni’s plans for the station.

Mark Buell, president of the Recreation and Park Commission, said his organization has reviewed the Union Square station design repeatedly in the past. While there were some concerns about the adverse impacts of the station, Muni has made the necessary design tweaks to address those issues, Buell said. One major change was shifting the design so park patrons could walk on top of the station unimpeded, Buell said.

After taking the item off the consent calendar, the commission voted Thursday to approve the design.

“We’re not making judgments on whether the proposed transit system is right or wrong,” Buell said. “We’re just weighing in on if the station design is appropriate for the park.”

Cauthen said the commission’s action could warrant a lawsuit.

“All the legal arguments against this station are quite thorough,” Cauthen said. “We don’t see how this meets the requirements of the City Charter. Right now, there are people gathering money together for a possible lawsuit. If The City continues to stonewall us, we really have no other alternative.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, will hear back next month on its $942 million federal grant application for the Central Subway.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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