Navy Plan for San Diego Can Go Ahead

      SAN DIEGO (CN) - The Navy's plans to redevelop a 16-acre naval complex on a waterfront site in downtown San Diego will not require further environmental review, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller tossed the California Coastal Commission's lawsuit against the Navy and developer Manchester Pacific Gateway. The commission claimed that the $1.3 billion project had grown substantially since it was approved more than 20 years ago.
     The site, known as the Navy Broadway Complex, is on federally owned land in downtown San Diego and consists of Navy administrative facilities built between 1921 and 1944, and asphalt parking lots.
     The Navy conducted an environmental impact assessment for redevelopment in 1990, which the commission - tasked with protecting the coastal environment - approved in 1991.
     Plans were put on hold until 2006, when the Navy signed a lease with Manchester to redevelop the site into a hotel-office-retail complex. The commission said that the modifications between 1991 and 2006 were significant enough to require another environmental assessment.
     The Navy disagreed, saying that "the minor changes that have been made to the project will not result in substantially different effects to coastal users or resources," according to the ruling's background section.
     The commission withdrew its approval in 2011 and filed the current lawsuit on Jan. 23, 2014, seeking an injunction to stop work on the project until a supplemental consistency determination could be completed and approved.
     The commission cited four changes that it believes are substantial enough to warrant the supplemental determination: the sidewalk width on Harbor Drive; the relocation of the proposed waterfront museum; the reduction of public recreational space from 4.97 acres to 4.21 acres; and an increase in the number of employees who will work at the site.
     Examining the "individual and cumulative impact of actual or perceived changes" in each of the areas, Judge Miller found that the Navy's determination that they were not substantial was not "arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law."
     He noted that the project "remains virtually the same," and that the commission "simply fails to identify any impacts to the coastal zone environment caused by the actual or perceived changes to the project."
     The commission also argued that the project's affect on downtown in the areas of public access, recreation, lower cost visitor facilities, and traffic and parking along the coast will be substantially different than described the Navy in its 1990 consistency determination.
     The commission claimed that more intensive development has occurred and is planned for downtown San Diego, that the Midway museum attracts around 850,000 visitors annually, and there has been an increase in traffic and parking and a decrease in scenic and visual qualities.
     Miller found that the Navy considered all of these issues and its determination that they did not constitute substantial changes was, again, not arbitrary.
     "In reviewing the Navy's analysis, it is not the role of the court to substitute its judgment in place of learned and experienced individuals with specialized knowledge in the field. The Supreme Court instructs that the court is not to substitute its judgment for that of an agency and 'should uphold a decision of less than ideal clarity if the agency's path may reasonably be discerned,'" Miller wrote.