Railroading Warriors Arena Approval?

S.F., Warriors Arena Proposal  Final SEIR Released Just Now: Only Gives Public One Week to Comment

 Mission Bay Alliance Says It Will Challenge SF’s Plan to Rush Proposed Warriors Arena without Adequate Public Input or Review

 SF’s Own Initial EIR Report Shows Warriors Arena Threatens Mission Bay with Massive Traffic Jams, Life-Threatening Congestion, Degraded Quality of Life 

Opponents of the proposed Golden State Warriors’ arena and entertainment complex say the City of San Francisco’s accelerated approval schedule short-changes necessary public review and jams through a flawed project that will cause severe traffic congestion, block emergency access and have severe environmental impacts in Mission Bay.

The city’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure released the project’s final Environmental Impact Report today and has already scheduled a Nov. 3 (election day in San Francisco) meeting to approve it, leaving the public only seven days to review the final EIR and prepare comments. Approval by OCII will be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The report can be found at: http://www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=1828

“The City’s attempt to railroad this arena through the approval process shortchanges the public of adequate vetting and puts residents at risk with a rushed and flawed project,” said Osha Meserve, an attorney for the Mission Bay Alliance, a coalition of residents, UCSF employees, UCSF patients, and stakeholders who oppose the proposed Warriors’ arena.  “Despite the city’s attempt to circumvent a transparent public process, we are fighting to ensure it receives the diligent scrutiny San Francisco residents deserve.”

A seven-day review process of a final EIR is highly unusual for a controversial project of this size and impact – especially after members of the public and the Mission Bay Alliance identified more than 50 significant violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in the draft EIR, including severe traffic congestion, blocked emergency access and seismic safety threats. Public comments were due to OCII onJuly 27.

The project’s draft EIR showed that the proposed 18,500-seat Warriors arena would create a traffic jam that would stretch from the Bay Bridge through SOMA, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill all the way to Highway 101.  Situated about 1,000 feet from the new UCSF emergency room, the proposed arena would also threaten life-saving emergency access for the region’s most vulnerable.

Others have raised similar concerns. The California Nurses Association said the project would hurt patient access, safety and care. In September a coalition of more than 20 world-renown scientists from UCSF and the prestigious National Academy of Sciences said the proposed arena would be a “disaster” for the City’s growing biotech and life sciences hub, threatening the “the entire future of UCSF as the center of a world-class academic/biotech/medical complex.”

“Nurses, scientists, parents and neighbors agree: this project is a disaster that will gridlock traffic, threaten patient access to lifesaving care and destroy the Mission Bay neighborhood, hospitals and City as a whole,” said Bruce Spaulding of the Mission Bay Alliance.

Attorneys for the Mission Bay Alliance say an initial review of the final EIR reveals that the city largely ignored hundreds of pages of comments that relied on outside experts to confirm the project’s risks and flaws. For example, a recent Mission Bay Alliance-commissioned study shows the site to contain elevated toxins, including asbestos, that the city’s EIR fails to address.

“There are many serious problems with the EIR that we don’t believe the City has adequately considered to protect public health and safety,” Meserve said. “We are now demanding the time to evaluate the true risks of this project and prevent life-threatening disasters.”

Other concerns raised by the Mission Bay Alliance include:

  • Conclusions about Emergency Access are Not Supported by Data, Leaving Public at Risk

The emergency room entrance to the newly opened UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital is located about 1,000 feet from the proposed Warriors’arena and entertainment center – “Yet incredibly, [the EIR] concludes that the subject project would not result in inadequate emergency access when capacity events are taking place,” writes Dan Smith, of Smith Engineering & Management, who was hired by Mission Bay Alliance to analyze the traffic and access study of the City’s EIR.

“The EIR offers no objective data to support its conclusion that emergency access would not be adversely impacted in event travel peaks,” Smith said.

Instead, the City’s EIR relies on subjective “rationalizations” for why emergency vehicles would not be slowed. When roadways are congested with cars and sidewalks are filled with rowdy crowds, it is an inconceivable conclusion that emergency vehicles will not experience delay, Smith concluded.

Seconds or minutes could mean the difference between life and death. And patients in emergency situations are not always shuttled to the hospital by an emergency vehicle, meaning that traffic patrol officers and other drivers may not recognize an emergency situation.

The City’s EIR’s “conclusions about emergency access impacts are not only unsupported by objective data but incorrect and implausible,” Smith said.

  • Incomplete Traffic Study Paints a Limited Picture of the Project’s Traffic Nightmares

While the City concedes that the project will grind the intersections in the immediate vicinity to a halt, the study’s traffic analysis fails to comprehensively address the project’s impact on surrounding neighborhoods, including SoMA, Dogpatch, Potrero Hill or the stretch of Highway 101 leading to the Bay Bridge.

The City’s EIR arbitrarily selected only 23 intersections to grade on a scale of “A” through “F” with “A” designating free-flowing traffic and “F” being total gridlock. While it assigns “E” and “F” grades to many of the intersections studied, the limited scope paints an incomplete picture that does not convey the nightmarish conditions experienced by commuters in both the Financial District and SoMa, according to Larry Wymer, a licensed traffic engineer who analyzed the City EIR’s traffic study.

In his comment letter, Wymer said the City must at the very least analyze the roads north of the project to Market Street and it must do so in the context of the 21 other nearby construction projects – all of which also have their own impact on traffic gridlock. Finally he asks that the City revise its analysis to incorporate findings from the “2040 San Francisco Transportation Plan,” a City-produced study that predicts overall SoMa and Mission Bay auto trips to organically increase by 82 percent between 2012 and 2040.

“The impact of the proposed Warriors’ arena must be studied not in isolation but as a piece in the connected fabric of San Francisco’s roadways,” Spaulding said. “Everyone who travels on San Francisco’s roads and highways knows that traffic is bad and getting worse. Traffic caused by this project will compound in a multiplier effect that will grind this City to a screeching halt.”

  • Misleading Reliance on 17-Year-Old Data

Beyond incomplete data, the City’s EIR also relies on old information dating back to a 1998 Mission Bay Master Plan to mislead the public and deceptively conclude that the proposed 18,500-seat arena with 730,000 square feet of office and retail space will have limited impacts on Mission Bay, its surrounding neighborhoods or the thousands of patients and families who visit the area for care at UCSF hospitals and nearby clinics.

Datasets forming the basis of significant portions of the City’s EIR are borrowed directly from outdated EIRs prepared in 1990 and 1998 for the City’s 1998 Mission Bay Redevelopment Plan. The 1990 and 1998 EIRs broadly analyzed all 303 acres in the Mission Bay area and omit site-specific reviews on pollution, hazardous materials and seismic safety of the current 11-acre site, attorneys found.

Yet, the City claims that many of those old evaluations remain valid today.

“The City’s strategy of relying on a very general environmental review document that is more than 17 years old for topics required to be analyzed and mitigated in detail does not work for the public, nor is it compliant with CEQA’s most basic requirements,” write attorneys Meserve and Patrick Soluri in a July 27 comment letter to the City on behalf of Mission Bay Alliance.

The attorneys say the risk of this site literally dissolving during an earthquake due to liquefaction and amplification, for example, has not been properly analyzed because seismic risks were studied differently in the 1990s.  The proposed site would be built on soft landfill ground that today is considered a high risk for earthquake damage – risks not properly analyzed in the draft EIR.

Pending OCII approval on Nov. 3, the project could go before the Board of Supervisors as early as mid-November.

Mission Bay Alliance has said it will consider litigation if the city approves a project that does not address significant legal defects.

“As it stands, the issues identified by our legal team all but prove that this ill-conceived project would spell disaster for Mission Bay and the city as a whole,” Spaulding said.