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 (Criterion 3)
In August 2000, the General Services Administration (GSA) issued a second adaptive use study regarding the feasibility of incorporating the historic Hotel San Diego into proposed new courthouse construction. The study analyzed two alternatives. One would retain only the hotel’s exterior walls and incorporate them into the new courthouse construction. The second alternative would retain most, not all, of the hotel as a free-standing structure. In the opinion of the U.S. District Court, the future tenant, neither option would satisfy its needs. The consulting parties are in the process of reviewing the study and providing views to GSA.
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. The current proposal would require demolition of the historic Hotel San Diego, constructed in 1914 by prominent local developers, the Spreckels Brothers, and their architect, Harrison Albright.
Hotel San Diego
(Photographer: General Services Administration)
In response to GSA’s public outreach under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the California Preservation Foundation, Save Our Heritage Organization (the local preservation nonprofit), and the San Diego Historical Site Board questioned GSA’s analysis of the potential reuse of the hotel and the need for its demolition. Further coordination with these groups did not take place as part of the Section 106 review process, however, 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 concurred in GSA’s site selection but questioned its determination that the historic hotel could not be reused as part of the 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 based its determination that the building could not be reused on a “preliminary walk through” of the building, not an in-depth study.
In response to the Council’s concerns, GSA completed an adaptive-use study of the Hotel San Diego. The document was produced absent the involvement of the Council or the consulting parties. At a meeting held in October 1999, GSA promised to coordinate further analysis of reuse of the historic hotel with the consulting parties and to work cooperatively to resolve questions about the program needs of the new courthouse.
Nevertheless, despite such assurances, GSA did not contact any of the consulting parties before notifying the Council in March 2000, of its decision to record and demolish all buildings on the site, including the hotel. After objections from the Council and other consulting parties, GSA agreed to revisit this decision by conducting further adaptive-use analysis.
This case highlights the ongoing challenges posed by review of Federal courthouse construction projects under Section 106. Local Federal judges are often actively involved in consultation on these cases and play important roles in shaping the decision-making process.
This particular 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 under NEPA but did not adequately address historic preservation concerns raised by interested parties during the scoping process and public comment period.
Staff contact: Ralston Cox
June 2000 report on this case
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