Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
California: Construction of U.S. Courthouse (San Diego)
Agency: General Services Administration
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This undertaking raises questions about how the General Services Administration coordinates its Section 106 responsibilities (particularly public participation) with other environmental reviews (Criteria 2 & 3).
- There is substantial public controversy regarding the proposed demolition of the Hotel San Diego
In response to Council questions about its determination that the historic Hotel San Diego could not be reused as part of the San Diego courthouse project, the General Services Administration (GSA) has completed an adaptive use study for the building.
However, despite assurances from GSA’s regional office that the Council, the consulting parties, and interested groups would be consulted during development of the report, the document was produced absent such involvement. In August, GSA received comments critical of the adaptive use study’s findings from the Western Regional Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the City of San Diego Historical Sites Board.
GSA will soon meet onsite with Council staff and the consulting parties to discuss the content of the report and the status of GSA’s efforts to complete Section 106 review.
GSA proposes to construct a new U.S. Courthouse within the central business district of San Diego. The U.S. District Court presently occupies the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building-Courthouse, a 1970s-era building, in addition to leased space downtown.
The preferred site for the new courthouse is adjacent to the Schwartz Federal Building, and the current proposal would require demolition of the Hotel San Diego. Constructed in 1914 by prominent local developers, the Spreckels Brothers, and their architect, Harrison Albright, the Hotel San Diego is one of only three buildings that remain from their collaboration.
The Hotel San Diego, CA
(Photo courtesy of GSA)
In response to GSA’s public outreach pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Trust, the California Preservation Foundation, Save Our Heritage Organization (the local preservation nonprofit), and the San Diego Historical Site Board raised questions concerning GSA’s analysis of the potential for reuse of the hotel or, indeed, the need for its demolition.
However, further coordination with these groups did not take place as part of the Section 106 review process, and consultation between GSA and the California State Historic Preservation Officer led to the development of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) accepting demolition of the building.
Upon receipt of the MOA, the Council questioned GSA’s determination that the historic Hotel San Diego could not be reused as part of the San Diego courthouse project. While expressing support for GSA’s attempt to coordinate its Section 106 responsibilities with NEPA and other environmental statutes, the Council noted that GSA determined the building could not be reused without benefit of an in-depth study, relying instead upon a “preliminary walk through” of the building. In response, GSA agreed to initiate an adaptive use study.
This case underscores the difficulties that GSA faces in meeting the requirements of the Federal courts while coordinating its various environmental reviews. GSA attempted to link its Section 106 responsibilities with its analysis of the project pursuant to NEPA but did not adequately address historic preservation concerns raised by interested parties during the NEPA scoping process and public comment period.
Staff contact: Ralston Cox
July 1999 report on this case
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