A project to create a new parking lot at the College of San Mateo, but which meant the demise of a horticulture facility, will have to be started again from scratch, the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled Thursday.
Back in 2012, Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens won a suit in San Mateo County Superior Court challenging the decision of the San Mateo County Community College District to demolish the Building 20 Complex, including its gardens, for a surface parking lot. The district challenged the decision and this latest ruling means the project will require further evaluation before moving forward. The court notes the Board of Trustees deviated from its districtwide, three-college-campus master plan with regard to the project.
“We are very happy that our group of students was able to prevail in this long battle and are thrilled that rehabilitation of the historic gardens and the Building 20 complex must now be studied in an open public process,” said the Friends group’s founder, Shawn Khan in a statement. “We are confident that there are many other ways to provide adequate college parking.”
A 2006 Facilities Master Plan for the college called for rehabilitation of Building 20. In 2011, the district decided to demolish the building and its surrounding gardens on the basis of a California Environmental Quality Act addendum. Voters approved Measure A, a $468 million bond, in 2005. Prior to filing a lawsuit, those opposing the demolition attended board meetings to question how plans fit with the proposed voter-approved work and the long-term master plans.
The trustees had approved the demolition as part of a plan to add 125 to 200 parking spaces, while retaining most of the garden. The district has previously said the building did not meet accessibility standards, was in disrepair and was underutilized.
The appeals court ruled that the addendum violated CEQA.
“The district contends an addendum was appropriate and was sufficient environmental review of the demolition project,” according to the official ruling by a three-judge panel. “We disagree because the demolition of the project is a new project not subject to an addendum and requiring additional environmental review.”
Still, the court declined the Friends’ request to order the preparation of an Environmental Impact Review.
“The district must change its focus on the demolition project, and view it as a separate, new project rather than a minor or technical amendment to the overall CSM project,” the panel stated in the ruling. “It must then evaluate the demolition project, fully and adequately examine potential environmental impacts and determine whether substantial evidence supports a fair argument that the demolition project may have a significant effect on the environment. If there is such evidence, the district would then have to prepare an EIR.”
Susan Brandt-Hawley, attorney for Friends group, said her clients are thrilled with the ruling.
“They’ve always wanted the same thing for last three years,” Brandt-Hawley said. “They see a way to save a significant portion of that horticulture complex. They’re looking forward to an environment process that will consider alternatives while addressing parking needs that the campus has.”
The district declined to comment on the ruling.
The district passed two addendums to the Facilities Master Plan before previously approving the demolition. The first was redone after community concerns were raised, resulted in a 140-page document amending the original large-scale design-build plans.
The horticulture program was canceled due to low enrollment in 2011.
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