Wednesday, February 1, 2012


A legal action has been filed by the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club against the Presidio Trust asking the federal courts to declare the Trust’s Main Post Update and Record of Decision invalid and to find the Trust in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Presidio Trust Act.  Further, the action seeks to halt the revised zoning of the Main Post approved in the Main Post Update and the Record of Decision (ROD).  Those approvals would for the first time permit construction of a fourteen building hotel and a greatly enlarged movie theater in the Main Post. The text of the complaint may be found at


1. Why is this legal action against the Presidio Trust being filed?

Answer. This legal action is important not just for the Presidio, but for all of our national parks and historic landmarks. It will make clear that any federal agency with jurisdiction over a national historic landmark or national park must comply fully with its trust responsibilities as well as with applicable environmental and historic preservation laws.  A federal entity cannot act as if it were a commercial developer on private property.   Failure to make the Trust accountable for any violations of environmental law at the Presidio would set a dangerous precedent for other parks and national historic landmarks controlled by agencies other than the National Park Service. 

2. Isn’t this just more NIMBY opposition to anything new, such as the planned hotel in the middle of Main Post?
Answer:  There is no compelling reason to damage the Presidio National Historic Landmark, but the Trust has nevertheless decided to do that with its proposed new construction. It would set a bad precedent for other parks and national historic sites if any Trust violations of the law go unchallenged. The Trust’s own documents report that its plans for the hotel and other new construction will damage the historic integrity of the Presidio.  The NHPA requires federal agencies to avoid such damage. 
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3. What is the Presidio Trust’s reason for the planned new construction of a hotel and enlarged movie theater on the Main Post in the center of this historic site? 
Answer. The reason given for changing Main Post zoning in order to permit a large hotel and a large addition to the historic theater was to “revitalize” the Main Post of the Presidio.  The Trust’s highest statutory priority is to support the purposes of the National Park and National Historic Landmark, not to destroy or compete with those purposes by sponsoring commercial activities. 
4. What is the basis for the plaintiffs’ argument opposing new construction on the Main Post, except for construction replacing an old building by a new building of the same size, located on the site of the building being replaced?
Answer. The law that established the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972 limited new construction to buildings that replaced pre-existing buildings on their original locations.  That law was upheld by the courts in 1986, after the Sierra Club sued to stop the Army and the Postal Service from building a post office on Crissy Field. The Presidio Trust Act contains a similar prohibition on new construction.
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5. Isn’t the new construction necessary for the Trust to meet the requirement in the Trust Act that it must earn enough to keep the Presidio operating without federal funds after 2013?
Answer. No. This is a common misunderstanding.  The Trust’s 2010 Annual Report to Congress said, “ Since 2004, the Trust’s earned revenue has fully offset operating costs”.  In addition, the Doyle Drive Project has resulted in over 60 million dollars of right of way compensation, a huge windfall for the Trust. Trust budgets show it will remain profitable in the future.
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6. Other national parks have hotels. Why shouldn’t there be one on the Presidio?
Answer:  The Trust’s statements comparing its planned hotel on the historic Main Post of the Presidio with hotels in other national parks are misleading.  The historic great lodges at Yosemite, Yellowstone or Grand Canyon, for example, were built where there was no alternative housing for visitors to those parks.  In comparison, the Presidio is surrounded by the 33,000 hotel rooms in San Francisco. There is no environmental or financial rationale that justifies new construction in the park that will damage the National Historic Landmark.
7. A resort hotel, Cavallo Point, was built in Marin at Fort Baker, which is a part of the GGNRA. If the Trust’s plans to build a hotel in the center of the Presidio’s parade grounds violate environmental laws, why has the National Park Service allowed the hotel at Fort Baker to be built?
Answer.  Fort Baker is not a National Historic Landmark. The Presidio is.  National Historic Landmarks are to have the highest degree of protection by law. 
 Also, the Park Service, for the most part, partly hid its new construction at Fort Baker behind existing historic structures.  In comparison, the Trust plan for the Presidio Main Post is to build 70,000 square feet of new construction in the center of the highly visible historic heart of the Presidio.  This planned construction is not at all like the carefully located, partly hidden hotel buildings at Fort Baker. 
8. What about the recently announced Presidio Inn that will be in a rehabilitated historic building? Did the PHA and Sierra Club oppose that?
Answer. No. The new “inn” will provide rooms in a historic building that will be rehabilitated.  Such repurposing is encouraged by preservation laws.  The inn did not require any new construction in the historic landmark.  On the other hand, the Trust’s fourteen building hotel obviously will require massive new construction.  We were, however, disappointed that the Trust’s inn was designed for the wealthy, (rooms are $300-500), rather than for middle class park visitors. 
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9. Who will represent the Plaintiffs in this legal action? 
Answer. The Environmental Law Clinic of the Stanford University Law School will represent the Presidio Historical Association and the Sierra Club in this matter. The Clinic provides an opportunity for students to work in environmental advocacy on behalf of a variety of nonprofit organizations, from national groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ocean Conservancy to regional grassroots groups as the San Francisco Baykeeper and Voice of the Wetlands..
10. What is the Presidio Historical Association? Who does it represent?
Answer. For over fifty years, members of the Presidio Historical Association (PHA) have been dedicated to historical preservation and education at the Presidio. It opened Fort Point to the public, set up a museum there, and later established a museum and school programs for the Army on the Presidio.  Its 300 members represent history fans and friends of the Presidio.
11. How can the public support this legal attempt to stop the Presidio Trust’s plans to damage the historic integrity of the Presidio?
Answer. Join the Presidio Historical Association or donate to the PHA specifically to help with Presidio legal expenses. See 
Updates concerning this matter will also be available on
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PresidioPal said...

PresidioPal will post all reasonable comments and respond when possible. Details of pending litigation of course cannot be discussed. Stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

So, what happens next with the law suit? Why haven't I seen any blow-back from the Presidio Trust?

PresidioPal said...

The Trust has been quiet concerning the lawsuit. Why? My guess is that lawyers advised to avoid public controversy. They needed time to analyze the complaint. Only in early April, the federal attorney who will lead the defense was appointed. We anticipate that it'll be a few more months before there will be an appearance in court. That will be mostly formalities.