by Thomas K. Pendergast
Opponents of the Geary Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project planned for Geary Boulevard released in May the opening arguments in a lawsuit filed against two San Francisco transportation agencies to derail the BRT.
San Franciscans for Sensible Transit (SFST), a local group that filed the lawsuit, is hoping to slow the Geary BRT down and to get a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project.
The suit was filed in early 2017, but in May the lawyers for San Franciscans for Sensible Transit filed their opening remarks, giving more details about their claims of mismanagement and public manipulation.
The Geary BRT would strip Geary Boulevard of its traffic islands and the trees on them, replacing them with long stretches of dedicated bus-only red lanes along much of the major transit artery in the Richmond District. The boulevard would be reduced from three lanes in each direction to two.
The Muni #38-Geary bus route carries an average of 52,000 passengers a day.
The lawsuit was filed against the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA), which is composed of the members of the SF Board of Supervisors, and the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the lead agency for constructing the Geary BRT.
The lawsuit argues that the Final Environmental Impact Review of the Geary BRT contains “fatal substantive flaws,” including not adequately analyzing an option to not build BRT at all. The SFMTA failed to incorporate system changes that were already being implemented along the route as part of the Geary Environmental Impact Review’s “no build” option. It also claims the EIR relies on “outdated data” and “unsubstantiated models.”
Eric Young, senior communications officer for the SFCTA, said the organization does not comment on pending litigation.
In a Jan. 5, 2017 op-ed article in the SF Examiner, Paige Miller, a communications officer with the SF County Transportation Authority who served on the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee, and Nick Josefowitz, who represents District 8 on the BART board of directors, called for Geary BRT construction to begin.
“For more than a decade, these upgrades to Geary have undergone robust vetting by the community and have incorporated much of the neighborhood’s feedback. However, like is often the case in our City, a handful of individuals with special interests continue to fight the upgrades to Geary every step of the way.
“The time has come for the needs of tens of thousands of riders and the hundreds of thousands of people who live, work and travel along the corridor to come first,” the
The lawsuit seeks to set aside the SFCTA board’s approval, as well as the certification for the Final EIR, and to issue an injunction to keep the SFCTA and SFMTA from taking further action until there is another public hearing and to evaluate the “no build” option.
Improvements being made to the #38-Geary bus line through the SFMTA’s Muni Forward plan that were not included in the Geary EIR’s no build option include the addition of traffic signals, upgraded pavement between 27th and 33rd avenues, the addition of 14 pedestrian bulb-outs throughout the corridor and traffic signal priorities for buses.
Among the list of complaints referenced to the transit agencies’ plan by Sensible Transit’s opening brief is what it claims was the Geary BRT planners’ “complete failure” to consider the role of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), or ridesharing, in transportation planning.
“Respondents stuck their heads in the sand and chose to ignore technological innovations and growth of the TNCs … skewing the data and information used in their evaluation of impacts on transportation,” the plaintiffs assert. “By completely ignoring the phenomenon of TNCs, respondents understate the number of vehicles on the road, underestimate the impact on air quality, overstate the positive effects of its project and make conclusions that are not supported in the administrative record or the EIR analyses.”
The brief also alleges that the project has lost federal funding, a point the city attorney representing the city agencies flatly rejects.
The plaintiffs claim that in 2008 the SFCTA acknowledged the need for federal funds to make the $300 million project possible and they worked in conjunction with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which issued a federal notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The opening brief says: “From 2008 at least, the environmental assessment document was framed to be a joint EIS/EIR under NEPA and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and the draft document was in fact a joint EIS/EIR published in October, 2015.
Thirteen months after the Draft EIS/EIR comment period, on Dec. 9, 2016, respondents published a standalone FEIR (Final Environmental Impact Report) under CEQA, not NEPA. The federal government had withdrawn from the combined EIS/EIR, transforming the project into a San Francisco-only local project. The FEIR still contains references to federal funding … that no longer existed.
The City Attorney’s Office, however, says this is just one of many bogus claims the SFST makes.
“This lawsuit is just the latest attempt by a small, disgruntled group trying to derail a thoroughly reviewed and approved project,” said John Cote, communications director for the City Attorney’s Office. “Their brief is riddled with inaccuracies. For example, no federal funding has been lost. The project is still anticipating asking for, and receiving, federal funding.”
Cote deflected the remaining allegations in the brief by deferring to the court of law, not the court of public opinion.
“We’re not interested in litigating our case point-by-point in the press, but suffice it to say the EIR is complete and accurate. We’re looking forward to our day in court,” he said.
Included in those other points is the claim that the City pushed through final certification for the project on Jan. 5, 2017, just before one of the Geary BRT’s chief proponents, Richmond District Supervisor Eric Mar, was due to be termed out of office and before his replacement, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who has publicly expressed questions about the Geary BRT, could take her new seat.