Blocking the bridge - Page 2

Suit over Lennar EIR could force changes in bridge on Yosemite Slough

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A proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough has environmentalists going to court

"The related problem is that the city is no longer looking at the project with a steely eye," Feinstein said. "Instead, they have become the developer — except that they are working with Lennar and not reviewing Lennar's plans with objectivity. By filing this lawsuit, we're keeping the conversation about this project alive and reminding folks that you don't have to take everything this mayor and his administration gives you."

The Sierra Club/Audubon Society suit came four days after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the California State Parks Foundation entered into an agreement with Lennar to help prepare conceptual designs that reportedly will be used as the basis for the actual bridge over the Yosemite Slough.

Some critics interpreted the timing of CSPF's announcement, which the Chronicle reported under a confusing "Environmentalists to help design span" headline, as an attempt by Lennar's well-oiled PR machine to undermine the Sierra Club/Audubon Society suit.

They also questioned CSPF's independence from Lennar, and from the Mayor's Office, because Guillermo Rodriguez Jr. from the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development sits on CSPF's board. So does Peter Weiner, a partner at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, which has contracts with Lennar. Representatives from Southern California Edison, Toyota, the Walt Disney Company, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and several other companies that either have contracts with Lennar or have given to Mayor Gavin Newsom's campaign for lieutenant governor campaign also sit on the park foundation board.

CPSF's President Elizabeth Goldstein told us that "as park supporters and defenders, we consider ourselves environmentalists." CSPF originally planned to fight approval of the project's final EIR when it came before the board in July. But unlike the Sierra Club, CSPF pulled its appeal at the last minute.

Goldstein told the Guardian that the foundation reversed its decision because it had initiated what she characterized as "a fruitful discussion with Lennar."

"We wanted to play that out," Goldstein said. "And now we're glad we did, because the design criteria look quite good and hopefully will be compatible with the project."

"What we've agreed with Lennar about is a set of design criteria to be applied to the bridge, she continued. "These criteria are intended to make sure the bridge fits aesthetically into the park as much as is possible. Lennar asked us, and we agreed, to develop the first set of conceptual plans — obviously in cooperation with them — to make sure that they are, from their first iteration, as sympathetic as possible to the park."

Goldstein said that some of these design criteria are "quite global."

"Some are big arcs of things that are very important to us, such as impact from light, glare and noise," she said, noting that they don't want to see the proposed bridge lighted at night, à la the Golden Gate Bridge.

"We want the environment at dusk to be as unimpacted as possible," she said.

Other CSPF concerns are more situation specific.

"We want safe, attractive, easy-to-use signage," Goldstein said, referring to need to help users and neighbors find their way around and across the bridge. "We also talk about minimizing piers in the water at the slough, and if possible, eliminating them altogether since they impact vehicles and kayaks."

Goldstein agreed that the foundation's roots are not in political advocacy. "We were founded as a philanthropic land acquisition partner to the Department of State Parks." But she noted that the group was involved in blocking a proposed toll road through Orange County and is a leading supporter of Proposition 21, which seeks to raise nearly $500 million a year for state parks by tacking on an $18 vehicle registration fee that would give all vehicles registered in California free access to the majority of state parks.