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Court Rules Historic Designation of Coronado Belt Line Unlawfully Set Aside by City Council

By Susan Brandt Hawley

The San Diego Historical Resources Board has declared after careful review that the portion of the Coronado Belt Line railway located in San Diego is a historic site. At the request of the MTDB and Councilmember Ralph Inzunza, the City Council overturned the Board's designation in 2004 against the recommendations of City staff and the City Manager, with Councilmember Donna Frye as the sole dissenting vote. Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) sued the City because, as City staff pointed out, there was no legal basis to overturn the historic status. (San Diego Superior Court Case GIC837743.) On July 15th, San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager ruled in favor of SOHO, agreeing that the City acted unlawfully and granting a peremptory writ requiring the City to set aside its action. (See ruling at www.sandiego.courts.ca.gov.)

The Coronado Belt Line looped around the San Diego coastline and up the Silver Strand to Coronado as part of the Spreckels railroad empire, contributing to San Diego's growth and vitality as it linked the City with the harbor and South Bay communities. From 1888 until the mid-20th century, the Belt Line regularly transported residents, visitors, World War I and II military shipments, agricultural products, building materials, and commercial and industrial wares through the region.

SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons said, "This is an important precedent proving that the City Council can not arbitrarily overturn historic designations just because they want to approve some ill-advised development scheme. They must have a valid legal basis to do so."

This is the second lawsuit that SOHO has won regarding the Belt Line's historic merit. Last year, Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn agreed with SOHO in a suit brought under the California Environmental Quality Act against the Port District, ruling that the Belt Line has historical significance as an historic, cultural, and aesthetic resource. Judge Quinn ordered the Port to prepare an Environmental Impact Report to examine potentially significant impacts on land use, recreation, historical, cultural, aesthetic resources, and transportation before approving a 66-year lease of the Coronado Belt Line, subject to approval of MTDB. (San Diego Superior Court Case GIC806225.)


Photo by Bruce Coons

2005 - Volume 36, Issue 3

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