Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 6, 2016

Contact: Jeff Miller, Aruna Prabhala, (510) 844-7122,

Court Slaps Down Caltrans Highway Project in Pacifica

Approval Violated Endangered Species Act, Relied on Inadequate Mitigation

SAN FRANCISCO— Following a legal challenge by conservation groups, a federal court has ruled that the California Department of Transportation violated the Endangered Species Act in approving a controversial project to widen Highway 1 in Pacifica, Calif. The Northern District court ruled Friday that Caltrans wrongly tried to use an already preserved parcel of land as mitigation for highway-widening impacts to endangered San Francisco garter snakes and threatened California red-legged frogs, and relied on other uncertain mitigation measures to supposedly offset environmental impacts from the proposed Calera Parkway Project. Caltrans must now reinitiate a formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding impacts and mitigations for endangered species.

California red-legged frog
California red-legged frog photo courtesy Gary M. Fellers, USGS. Photos are available for media use.

“The court got it right: Caltrans failed to honestly evaluate the impacts of the project on endangered snakes and frogs, and got caught trying to use an already protected parcel of land as supposed mitigation,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Caltrans can’t continue to ignore conservation and environmental-review laws. We’re hoping the agency gets the message that the community doesn’t want or need this wasteful and damaging highway-widening project.”

Pacificans for a Scenic Coast, Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives and the Center for Biological Diversity filed their challenge to the project in May 2015. The project would have more than doubled 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 damaging wetlands, harming endangered species and their habitats, and sacrificing coastal views and archaeological sites.

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 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.

The court ruled that the environmental approval of the project by Caltrans is invalid because it violated the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. The court noted that Caltrans’ reliance on a 5.14-acre parcel for mitigation that was already preserved “resulted in a faulty Biological Opinion, which in turn resulted in an invalid approval of the project.” The court also rejected Caltrans’ proposal to “enhance” endangered species habitat off-site of the project as a “vague and speculative mitigation.” The court ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service also violated the Endangered Species Act and that Caltrans must reinitiate a formal consultation and obtain a new “biological opinion” from the federal wildlife agency.

Caltrans Watch, a coalition of conservation and community organizations, is taking 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.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs are Christopher Sproul of San Francisco, Brain Gaffney of Pacifica and Patricia Weisselberg of Mill Valley.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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