Natural Areas Plan: SFFA comments on the DEIR (Pt 6: Flawed Process)

Whatever one thinks of the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Program (SNRAMP, Sin-ramp) – and this website has documented what we do think about it –  it’s important that the public is kept informed. They should be able to know about it, understand it, and be free to comment on it.

Unfortunately, the city hasn’t been doing a really good job about letting the public know. They have done the bare minimum: Posting a notice (like the one in the picture) in the SF Examiner and at McLaren Lodge, and mailing those who were already on their mailing list.

People have to go looking for the Sin-ramp and the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). And then – things keep changing, and only those who are really alert are aware of the changes.

On top of that, there’s a big fat glaring error right at the start of the DEIR.

Read on for details. (Please note we’ll be uploading attachments later on.)

The public review and comment process for the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Significant Natural Areas Resources Management Plant (SNRAMP) was severely compromised by:

  • A major mistake in the identification of the “Environmentally Superior Alternative” and the refusal to correct that mistake during the public process
  • The last minute rescheduling of the public hearing by the Planning Commission which prevented many concerned citizens from commenting at that hearing
  • The refusal to inform the public of the extension of the deadline to October 31, 2011
  • The refusal to inform the public of the reopening of the public comment period to June 11, 2012

These errors and policy decisions will materially prejudice the public comment and therefore expose the DEIR to a legal challenge that will require that the process be repeated.

1.    THE REFUSAL TO CORRECT THE MISTAKE IN THE DEIR ABOUT THE “ENVIRONMENTALLY SUPERIOR ALTERNATIVE”

The Summary of the DEIR at the beginning of the document says that the “Maximum Restoration Alternative” is the “Environmentally Superior Alternative” (page 2).  This is a mistake.  The “Maximum Restoration Alternative” is NOT the “Environmentally Superior Alternative.”   The “Environmentally Superior Alternative” is the “Maintenance Alternative.”  The correct statement does not appear in the DEIR until the very end of the document:

The Maximum Recreation and Maintenance Alternatives are the environmentally superior alternatives because they have fewer unmitigated significant impacts than either the proposed project or the Maximum Restoration Alternative. Between the Maximum Recreation Alternative and the Maintenance Alternative, the Maintenance Alternative would be the environmentally superior alternative for two reasons. While the two alternatives have the same number of significant and unavoidable impacts under CEQA, the Maintenance Alternative has fewer potential environmental effects than the Maximum Recreation Alternative. First, the Maintenance Alternative would not create new trails, the construction of which could result in impacts to sensitive habitats and other biological resources. Second, over time the Maximum Recreation Alternative would result in Natural Areas with less native plant and animal habitat and a greater amount of nonnative urban forest coverage. The Maintenance Alternative, on the other hand, would preserve the existing distribution and extent of biological resources, including sensitive habitats. For these reasons, the Maintenance Alternative is the environmentally superior alternative.” (DEIR, page 525-526) (emphasis added)

Attached is the email correspondence with Jessica Range, the staff member in the Planning Department responsible for the environmental review process, about this error.  Ms. Range acknowledges the error, confirms that the “Environmentally Superior Alternative” is the “Maintenance Alternative,” but refuses to correct the error until the public comment period is over. (See Attachment VI-A) [We will be uploading all attachments later on.]

Few readers will read a document that is over 500 pages long.  This mistake will therefore mislead the public into supporting the “Maximum Restoration Alternative” which expands the destructive and restrictive aspects of the Natural Areas Program.  Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, this expansion is NOT legal because it violates the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires that the “Environmentally Superior Alternative” has the least negative impact on the environment of all proposed alternatives:

“§21002.  APPROVAL OF PROJECTS; FEASIBLE ALTERNATIVE OR MITIGATION MEASURES
The Legislature finds and declares that it is the policy of the state that public agencies should not approve projects as proposed if there are feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures available which would substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of such projects, and that the procedures required by this division are intended to assist public agencies in systematically identifying both the significant effects of proposed projects and the feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures which will avoid or substantially lessen such significant effects.”  CEQA Guidelines, page 2 (emphasis added)

This mistake will profoundly prejudice the public review and comment period.  The mistake was exacerbated by the refusal to correct the mistake before the public process was complete.

Although the mistake was verbally acknowledged by the staff of the Planning Department at the beginning of the public hearing on October 6th, it was characterized as a “typographical error.”  The dictionary definition of “typographical error” is:  “an error in printed or typewritten material resulting from a mistake in typing or from mechanical failure or the like.”   [Ref: Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Random House, 1991] It is an insult to the public’s intelligence to characterize the substitution of an entire phrase (“Maximum Restoration Alternative”) for another (“Maintenance Alternative”) as a typographical error.   Trivializing this error further misleads the public by failing to acknowledge the substantive differences between these alternatives.  The “Maintenance Alternative” is at the opposite extreme from the “Maximum Restoration Alternative” in the range of alternatives.

The “Maximum Restoration Alternative” proposes an expansion of the active restoration efforts of the Natural Areas Program to 100% of all acreage designated as “natural areas.”  This represents a 73% increase in the acres subjected to tree removals, herbicide applications, recreational access restrictions, and the planting of endangered plants and animals that could potentially require further access restrictions.

In addition to the inaccurate and misleading identification of the environmentally superior alternative, the public notice of the DEIR was inadequate.  No mention was made in the original public notice of the locations of the natural areas that would be impacted by the implementation of SNRAMP.  No mention was made of the significant impacts on the environment such as the removal of thousands of trees or the loss of recreational access.  The public notice did not enable the public to understand that the implementation of SNRAMP would have a significant impact on their parks or their neighborhoods.

2.    THE PUBLIC HEARING FOR THE DEIR LIMITED PUBLIC COMMENT

The public review and comment process was further compromised by the last minute decision to hold the public hearing by the Planning Commission earlier than originally announced.  The public hearing was originally announced to begin at 1:30 pm on October 6th.  Shortly before the hearing, the starting time was moved up to noon.

The public was further confused about the timing of their opportunity to speak to the Commission about the DEIR by the placement of the item on the agenda.  The DEIR for the SNRAMP was item number 13 on an agenda with 19 items.  The public had no way of knowing when the 13th item would be heard.  Many naturally assumed that it would not be at the beginning of the hearing.  They were wrong.

The public comment period on the DEIR for the SNRAMP was completed by 2 pm.  Many people came to the hearing, hoping to speak, only to find that they had missed the opportunity to do so.

A few people arrived in time to speak, but didn’t arrive in time to hear the staff of the Planning Department acknowledge the mistake about the “Environmentally Superior Alternative.”  Therefore, they wasted their public comment by focusing on an error that the Planning Department had made a commitment to correct.  No one showed them the courtesy of telling them during the hearing that the error would be corrected.

There are many neighbors of the so-called “natural areas” who have been following this issue for 15 years.  They were deeply committed to speaking and they were deprived of the opportunity to do so by the change in the time of the hearing.

3.   THE PUBLIC WAS NOT ADEQUATELY INFORMED OF THE EXTENSION OF THE DEADLINE FOR COMMENT

The President of the Planning Commission requested at the public hearing on October 6th that the deadline for written public comments be extended to October 31st.  No effort was made to inform the public of this extension of the deadline.  The Planning Department was asked (in writing) to inform any member of the public that had been informed of the original deadline of October 17th of this extension.  That request was refused.

Such refusal to provide the public with notification of the extension of the deadline will further compromise the public review process.

4.  THE PUBLIC WAS NOT ADRQUATELY INFORMED OF THE RE-OPENING OF THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD

The San Francisco Forest Alliance learned (from a neighborhood association) that the public comment on the DEIR was reopened on April 27, 2012 about one week after the notice was mailed.    SFFA immediately requested that this public notice be distributed more widely to the neighbors of the natural areas and posted in the natural areas.  This request was refused.

According to the mailing list that was used to distribute the notice of the reopening of the public comment period, the same neighborhood associations that were notified of the first public comment period were notified again.  The second public comment period was not more widely distributed than the first.  The organizations that had an opportunity to comment in October 2011 were essentially given a second opportunity to comment.   This is preferential treatment that will further jeopardize the fairness of the public process.

The reopening of the public comment period was another opportunity for the DEIR to be corrected.  The incorrect statement on page 2 of the DEIR stating that the Maximum Restoration Alternative is the Environmentally Superior Alternative was not corrected when the public comment period was reopened.  That incorrect statement was simply redistributed and reposted to the Planning Department website.  Once again, the refusal to correct this statement will prejudice the public comment.

Conclusion

The public review and comment process was severely compromised by a serious mistake and by several actions of the Planning Department staff.  The appropriate legal remedies for these mistakes are:

  • Correct the DEIR by accurately identifying the “Environmentally Superior Alternative”
  • Distribute the corrected DEIR in the same manner as the original was distributed
  • Announce another public hearing along with the corrected DEIR
  • Announce another deadline for written public comments that is at least as long as the original period
  • Distribute the public notice regarding the new public comment period to the neighbors of the natural areas and post the public notice in the natural areas.

The public review and comment period for the DEIR for the SNRAMP has been a stunning display of unfair dealing with the taxpayers who are paying for this project.  It is experiences such as this that turn taxpayers into protesters.

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2 Responses to Natural Areas Plan: SFFA comments on the DEIR (Pt 6: Flawed Process)

  1. Pingback: Natural Areas Plan: SFFA comments on the DEIR (Overview) « San Francisco Forest Alliance

  2. Dolan Eargle says:

    These revelations and corrections that are ignored are a flagrant violation of the public trust. GO NOW to your local supervisor and report them. And request that the entire process be STOPPED and withdrawn.

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