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Environmentalists Oppose Bridge Over Yosemite Slough

12:28 PM PDT on June 15, 2009

Picture_8.pngArtist's rendering of new development at Hunter's Point and Candlestick Point. Courtesy Lennar

If all goes as planned for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and one of the nation’s largest home builders, the Lennar Corporation, a causeway over the Yosemite Slough wetlands restoration project between Hunters Point and Candlestick Point will be built sometime in the next few years. This fact is not making environmentalists happy.

Greenaction, the Sierra Club, Arc Ecology, and the Audubon Society all have concerns about the impact of the bridge to surrounding residents and wildlife. Environmentalists with these organizations are concerned that bridge construction will stir up contamination in the ground, and that the bridge itself – and the road it will connect to on either side – will divide the state park, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, through which it will travel. They are also concerned it will endanger wildlife and undermine the restoration of the slough.

The proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough will serve the residents of the 10,500 or so new homes planned for 763-acre Candlestick Point and Hunters Point developments, and a few other, smaller developments planned for the area. The United States Navy has occupied Hunters Point since World War II, but is now turning it over to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Lennar. For decades, the Navy disposed of toxic waste in parts of Hunters Point now known as Parcels E and F.

“Yosemite Slough backs up right on to Parcel E,” says Marie Harrison, a community organizer with Greenaction, a San Francisco environmental justice organization. Parcel E is not only contaminated but it is a landfill that is prone to liquefaction during an earthquake – and depending on how the engineers decide to proceed, one end of the bridge could be anchored in the Parcel E landfill.

If it is not anchored in the landfill, engineers could decide to drive pilings into the contaminated Parcel F mudflats, which are below water and contaminated with PCBs and heavy metals, according to Saul Bloom, the executive director of Arc Ecology, a community-based environmental justice organization in the Bayview.

“The last thing you want to do is stir up the contamination by driving pilings into [contaminated] mud flats,” says Steven Chapman, of the Sierra Club.

“A bridge over this area will destroy habitat for wildlife by adding pollution and disrupting migration,” says Golden Gate Audubon Society Conservation Committee Chairperson Noreen Weeden, who notes that the GGAS has identified 118 native bird species that frequent the slough.  She adds that the bridge will also cast a shadow over the estuary, where now there is sunlight, and possibly add toxic runoff to the water below.

Arthur Feinstein, conservation director for Arc Ecology and a Sierra Club member, notes that the causeway includes “a bridge and a road through a state park, which one just doesn’t do.”  The project will eventually cost $25 million and involve habitat restoration, trail construction, and installation of bird nesting islands in the water.

“Young birds are going to fly into the bridge,” says Feinstein.

Tentative Design

The causeway is currently planned to be seven lanes, according to Assistant Project Manager Wells Lawson, in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development: two 11-foot lanes of bus-rapid traffic (BRT) in either direction on one side; a 15-foot pedestrian and bicycle lane on the other; and 40 feet dedicated to four grassy lanes (two in either direction) that will only be open to traffic on the nine to 10 game days a year – should the 49ers choose to stay in San Francisco and play their home games in a new stadium, now planned for Hunters Point.  During the rest of the year pedestrians and bicyclists will have access to the game-day lanes.  The BRT lanes will be for buses that will carry riders to and from regional transportation hubs, such as the Balboa BART station and the Caltrain station.

And if the 49ers migrate south or elsewhere?

“We will have a need for a different bridge,” says Lawson, one in which the car lanes for game day traffic are eliminated.

While the new developments are projected to add 16,545 to 18,695 parking spots (up to 35,860, including the stadium lot) according to the Draft Transportation Plan for the developments, the goal of planners is discourage private automobile use as much as possible. In fact, planners are trying to coax a shift in transportation habits such that a maximum of 40 percent of weekday peak period transportation will be by automobile, 35 percent will be by transit, 22 percent will be by foot, and three percent will be by bicycle.

If the 49ers opt to relocate outside of San Francisco, the current Draft Transportation Plan still includes 9,000 parking spaces in Hunters Point for vehicles serving the research and development industries that will be established on the site now dedicated to a new stadium.

With or without the four game-day travel lanes, “do you really think they’re not going to open [the bridge] up to traffic everyday?” asks a skeptical Harrison.

In 1987 the State Parks System approved the Candlestick Point State Recreation Area General Plan for the 157-acre state park that includes Yosemite Slough. While Candlestick is on Governor Schwarzenegger’s list of sites to be shuttered because of the economic downturn, the restoration of the 34-acre Yosemite Slough is going forward. The California State Parks Foundation, in fact, is now raising $12 million for the first phase of the restoration project.

According to the SF Planning Department, there will be two upcoming workshops about the project in July. The draft environmental review should be done this fall.

No one from the California State Parks Foundation responded to phone calls by the time of publication.

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