For Immediate Release, May 8, 2015
Lawsuit Targets Pacifica Highway Project Threatening Wetlands, Rare Species, Views
SAN FRANCISCO— Resident and conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the California Department of Transportation and other agencies challenging the approval of the Calera Parkway Project, a proposed highway widening in Pacifica, Calif. The Caltrans project would more than double the width of the existing state Highway 1 for a 1.3-mile portion of the roadway in Pacifica, at a projected cost of more than $50 million, while hurting wetlands, endangered species and their habitats, coastal views and archaeological sites. The plaintiffs are Pacificans for a Scenic Coast, Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives and the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We’ve filed suit because we care about the character and environment of Pacifica, and this project is out of scale with Pacifica’s scenic nature,” said Peter Loeb with Pacificans for a Scenic Coast. “The Caltrans plan is overkill that will have potentially drastic environmental impacts; it won’t solve the traffic congestion problem nor does it fit with the character of Highway 1 in our community.”
“Caltrans is pushing a project that would needlessly damage scarce habitat for endangered San Francisco garter snakes and California red-legged frogs, without fully evaluating alternatives to dramatically widening Highway 1,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “A more complete and honest evaluation of the project impacts is required under federal environmental protection laws.”
The highway widening project — proposed by the San Mateo County Transportation Authority and the city of Pacifica — would require permanent removal of numerous trees, construction of 4,100 feet of retaining walls, some as high as 22 feet, and hillside excavations up to 1,000 feet long, 60 feet deep and 60 feet wide, involving removal and disposal of 3.7 million cubic feet of soil. Project construction is estimated to last two years.
The project approval by Caltrans and federal agencies violates the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Transportation Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Coastal Zone Management Act. Caltrans proposes construction staging on top of endangered and threatened species habitats; the project will likely harm California red-legged frogs and San Francisco garter snakes through harassment, injury, mortality and habitat loss and degradation. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 75 acres of suitable garter snake and red-legged frog habitat occur within the project action area.
Highway 1 through Pacifica offers scenic vistas of the coast, the Pacific Ocean, and the surrounding mountains. The highway-widening project would cross Calera Creek, which feeds ponds that are habitat for endangered frogs and snakes. Runoff from the project would discharge into Rockaway Creek, Calera Creek, Sanchez Creek and the Pacific Ocean. The project would affect five jurisdictional water bodies or wetlands; its southern portion is directly adjacent to the California Coastal Trail. At the project’s north end, Highway 1 passes between the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Mori Point to the west and Sweeney Ridge to the east.
Caltrans, the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Park Service violated the Endangered Species Act by improper formal consultation with federal agencies on the impacts of the project on endangered species. Caltrans failed to provide the Service with accurate descriptions of the project and the specific areas affected, or how the project may affect listed species. The Service did not properly consider harm and harassment of protected species due to the project’s construction of migration barriers and changes to the hydrology of creeks and wetlands with endangered species habitat. The National Park Service was not included in the formal consultation, despite the fact that Caltrans’ proposed mitigation measures for the impacts of the project include using Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands managed by the Park Service. The Army Corps did not complete formal Endangered Species Act consultation in permitting the project.
A statewide Caltrans Watch coalition of conservation and community organizations have joined together to take on irresponsible and damaging Caltrans highway-widening projects around the state. The coalition highlights the agency’s wasteful spending, disregard of environmental regulations designed to protect natural resources, pervasive refusal to consider reasonable alternatives to massive highway projects, shoddy environmental review, lack of transparency, reliance on flawed data, disregard for public input, and a pattern of refusal to address local community concerns.
Pacificans for a Scenic Coast is an association whose mission is to protect, preserve and restore the scenic coastal environs of Pacifica.
Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives is an association that advocates for alternatives to widening Highway 1 in Pacifica.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.