Monday, June 20, 2011

Friends of the Garden file suit in San Mateo

Can you say "Pave paradise to put up a parking lot" kids? Not just a song, it's happening all over the place. Here's today's Chron story on how San Mateo Community College students and neighbors are fighting back:

Suit filed to preserve College of San Mateo garden

Students and neighbors of the College of San Mateo who enjoy visiting a tangled campus garden sued the college district and its trustees in San Mateo County Superior Court on Friday in a last-ditch effort to save thousands of square feet of greenery from being turned into a parking lot.

Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens, a loose-knit group that has fought the paving plan for months, say in their suit that San Mateo County Community College District trustees failed to perform a state-required environmental review before approving the plan last month.

"The district unlawfully approved a project with potentially significant environmental impacts without preparing" the report required by the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the complaint.

The project will result, the suit said, in the destruction of a "well-used, much-loved cultural landscape that now provides the only mature green area on campus conducive to reading and walking ... and support for wildlife." The garden was planted in 1963.

While district officials declined to comment on the suit's specifics, they defended the project, saying they intend to remove just 13,500 out of 50,000 square feet of garden.

"Our board believes the community college district has acted lawfully," said Richard Holober, president of the Board of Trustees.

Legal advice

Both an attorney and a consultant advised the district that a full environmental review was not required because the district wasn't proposing a new development, but only a modification of an existing project approved in 2006, said Barbara Christiansen, spokeswoman for the college district.

That original project called for preserving the garden, some greenhouses and Building 20, a 48-year-old structure housing a floristry program with just four students and a horticulture program that has been on hiatus for two years because of budget cuts.

College officials argue that Building 20 is no longer needed because new classrooms have been built elsewhere on campus. New labs and office space, along with a facility that can be rented to the public, require additional parking.

"As a result, the (college) administration decided that it would be best to demolish Building 20 and the associated green houses; construct approximately 125-200 parking spaces (replacing 30-40 spaces now there); and retain most of the garden area to be used by science classes," Christiansen wrote in a letter being sent out to anyone who expresses concern about the garden.

Case for full review

The students and neighbors suing the college district dispute that version of events in one key respect: They say the demolition project is not a modification, but a new project - one that ultimately will include the construction of an amphitheater - and therefore requires a full environmental review.

The group cites negative impacts of the project on wildlife habitat, water quality and campus aesthetics, and even cautions about the production of greenhouse gases.

In their lawsuit, the group says the college district also provided inadequate public notice of its intentions and asks the court to stop the project.

The suit also quotes an unnamed English instructor who wrote the college expressing appreciation for the garden.

The letter describes the doomed garden as "the only place left on campus where students, faculty, and staff can go to get away from the concrete and rigid plots of monoculture plantings that have taken over the campus."

It's a place "where we can enjoy nature's kindness, bounty, and wonder, relax, sit on the grass, and leisurely explore and experience its mini-climates and ecosystems so carefully nurtured over the past 40 years."

E-mail Nanette Asimov at

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


John Corcoran said...

It seems to me that demolishing a building and greenhouses is a pretty major change, necessitating an EIR under CEQA. I'm sure the college wants to save money by not doing a full blown EIR, but that's the point of requiring an EIR - so that the decision makers reviewing the process and the public can be fully informed about the environmental impacts of the proposed project. This will be an interesting story to follow as it develops. Thanks for writing about it.

Dotty LeMieux said...

Yes, they should need an EIR, and also for the privatization scheme for Albert Park, with huge expansions, traffic, noise, lights, etc.

Following that?