The MCA submitted the following comments to the National Park Service in response to their request for comments during the scoping process under NEPA for the potential relocation of Alcatraz ferry service to Fort Mason. If you are interested in being on the MCA committee for this project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Attn. Alcatraz Ferry Embarkation EIS
Fort Mason, Building 201
San Francisco, CA 94123
8 July 2012
Re: Public Comment for the Alcatraz Ferry Embarkation EIS
1. The Notice of Intent states that the environmental study will be conducted under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) but states that if a Port Authority pier is eventually selected as the preferred alternative the NPS will then produce an environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) at that later time. There are a number of differences between NEPA and CEQA but the most significant for the Marina Community Association (MCA) is that the EIS under the NEPA process does not need approval from the San Francisco Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors. If we wished to appeal the results of the EIS we would have to appeal to the EPA in Washington and through the Federal Courts.
2. By excluding the possible choice of Fort Mason from a CEQA review NPS is placing MCA at a disadvantage when compared to other San Francisco neighborhoods. The same number of visitors is expected whether the embarkation site is at a Port Authority pier or at Fort Mason. The environmental impact caused by parking and traffic problems will at least as bad and probably worse at Fort Mason because the Marina District is not yet as commercial a location as the other piers. And yet other residents of San Francisco will be able to be heard by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, but Marina residents will be denied that democratic alternative.
3. Section 15300 of CEQA allows for a number of categorical exemptions from CEQA, but specifically states that “a project which may cause a substantial adverse change in the significance of a historical resource” cannot be granted a categorical exemption. Fort Mason is a National Historic Landmark and the move of the Alcatraz Ferry to Fort Mason will double the annual number of visitors, which may well be a “substantial adverse change”.
4. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires an EIS under NEPA (Section 1508.27(b) (3)) to consider “unique characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to historic or cultural resources”.
5. NPS has requested that the City be a “cooperating agency” for the EIS as defined in NEPA. Section 1501.6 of NEPA defines the responsibilities of a cooperating agency, and states that the lead agency (NPS) may ask the City to assume responsibility for those portions of the EIS for which the City has “special expertise”. The impact of an additional 1.5 million visitors per year to the Marina District is certainly an area of study where the City has more expertise than NPS, and so MCA urges NPS and the City to allow the City to conduct the portion of the study relating to parking and traffic.
6. The question of whether a CEQA review can be avoided by the NPS or the City because Fort Mason is on federal land has already been addressed by the California Courts. In Nelson vs. County of Kern (2010) 190 Cal App 4th 252 the Fifth District Court of Appeals found that Kern County improperly concluded that it was not obligated to review and approve a proposed mining operation on the basis that the mining was on federal land. The Court stated that the fact that a project comes under NEPA and will be reviewed by a federal agency does not eliminate the responsibility of the County to comply with CEQA.
7. The Fort Mason Foundation has already approached the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department about leasing the parking space outside the gates of Fort Mason opposite Safeway. They apparently anticipate that the turn-around for the historic streetcar inside Fort Mason will cause them to lose 60 parking spaces. The potential of another 5,000 visitors per day will create an enormous extra parking burden on parking in the area.
8. The population of the 94123 zip code is about 23,000. The weekly visitor traffic of 35,000 will more than double the population. It is difficult to imagine how that can be done without an adverse impact on parking and traffic in a predominantly residential neighborhood.
12. The Port Authority piers are already in a commercial area of the City. Locating the ferry there will not change the character of those areas. Locating at Fort Mason will introduce 1.5 million visitors to a residential area. They will be looking for the gift shops and restaurants that they were used to at Fisherman’s Wharf, but which do not exist in the Marina District. Introducing such shops to the Marina will permanently change its character.
13. There is already a wide variety of public transportation to the Fisherman’s Wharf area, but the public transportation to the Marina District is much more limited. The EIS must address how 1.5 million people will get to and from Fort Mason without a significant adverse impact on the local residents. The EIS must also address how any new public transportation will be paid for.
14. Moving the ferry embarkation point from the Fisherman’s Wharf area to Fort Mason will have a significant negative impact on the merchants at Fisherman’s Wharf and on the resulting sales tax revenue to the City.
15. Any move must take into account the cost to the City. Section 1502.23 of CEQA requires a cost-benefit analysis and should not be avoided if Fort Mason were chosen as the embarkation point. Similarly section 15064 (e) of CEQA requires that the economic effects of any change be taken into account. If it is contemplated that an extension of the historic streetcar line from Fisherman’s Wharf to Fort Mason might provide transportation to the embarkation point, then there will be significant capital and operating expenses for a City department that is already running large deficits.
San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell also weighed in on this project with the below letter to NPS.