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San Diego City Council

Illegally Overturns Historic Designation, SOHO Files Suit

By Bruce Coons

Defying the largest group of historical societies and museum groups that have ever rallied behind a historic resource in San Diego, the San Diego City Council overturned the historic designation on the Coronado Railroad. This has dire ramifications for all historic designations in the City of San Diego. The council has overturned every designation that has come before them. There are at least six more appeals in the pipeline. SOHO intends to stop this practice now.

On October 26, 2004, SOHO filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus against the City of San Diego, challenging the City Council's action rescinding the Historical Resources Board's designation of the Coronado Belt Line Railway as a historic site on the City's Historic Resources Register. The lawsuit alleges City violations of its Municipal Code and a failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The Historical Resources Board voted 9-1 to designate the Belt Line a Historical Resource Site under Criterion A (cultural landscape), recognizing its significant contributions to the cultural, physical and economic development of San Diego, its value as an example of private capitalization of infrastructure, and as an archaeological site. The Board also designated the Belt Line under Criterion B (historical persons) for its association with John D. Spreckels, Elisha Babcock and Hampton L. Story and under Criterion C (architecture) as representative of railroad construction in the late 1800s (including circa 1890 Carnegie steel rails).

Under the Municipal Code, City Council may reject historic designations only based on factual errors in information presented to the Board, violations of bylaws or hearing procedures, or presentation of new information. As the City Manager and City staff told the City Council, none of these criteria were met. Yet the City Council rejected the Belt Line's historic designation.

This lawsuit follows on the heels of SOHO's related court victory last summer, in which San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn found that the Port of San Diego violated CEQA by failing to acknowledge the historic status of the Belt Line which required it to prepare an EIR before approving a 66 year-lease of the Coronado Belt Line, subject to approval of MTDB. (San Diego Superior Court Case GIC806225.) Judge Quinn granted a peremptory writ requiring the Port to set aside its approval of the Belt Line lease pending preparation of an EIR to examine potentially significant impacts on "land use, recreation, historical, cultural, aesthetic resources, and transportation." (See ruling at www.sandiego.courts.ca.gov).

Historic site status is based on facts, as were here fairly evaluated and applied by the Historical Resources Board. The City Council needs to follow its own rules regarding designation of historic sites rather than making political decisions that would lead to loss of the City's important resources.

2004 - Volume 35, Issue 4

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