The federal government's review of potential impacts of a new public clubhouse at the Presidio Golf Course was adequate under both federal environmental and historic preservation laws, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The federal analysis had been challenged by the Presidio Golf Club, a century-old private golf club which owns an historic clubhouse adjacent to the Presidio.
A predecessor to the Presidio Golf Club built the golf course on the grounds of the Presidio in 1895, as well as a private clubhouse on land adjacent to the Presidio. For many years, military officers were permitted to join the club at discounted rates and use its facilities, but in the 1950s the Army built its own clubhouse facilities on Presidio land near the private clubhouse. Military personnel and Presidio Golf Club members enjoyed exclusive use of the golf course until the Presidio was de-commissioned in 1994. After the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service in 1995, the Park Service contracted with Arnold Palmer Golf Management Co. to manage the course and open it to the public. Among other things, Presidio Golf Club members lost their preferential tee times, which apparently reduced the value of club membership.
In 1996, the Park Service issued an environmental assessment on a proposal to demolish the Army golf course facilities and replace them with a new 6,000-square-foot public clubhouse. The Presidio Golf Club sued, claiming that that the EA did not adequately consider the potential impact of the new public clubhouse on the old private clubhouse, and that the Park Service did not comply with the National Historic Preservation Act by failing to consider whether the construction of the new clubhouse would lead to neglect and destruction of the old private clubhouse. The club's lawyers asserted that the club had already lost half of its membership because of the new public use rules and that the club's ability to remain financially viable is questionable.
While conceding that the old private clubhouse is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the Ninth Circuit concluded that analysis of environmental impact and impact on historic resources was adequate.
In a lengthy section of the opinion, the three-judge panel concluded that Presidio Golf Club does have standing to bring the lawsuit because "while it is a close question, the injury asserted by the Club is fairly traceable to the building of the public clubhouse," and because the club's interest is "arguably within the zone of interests to be protected under NEPA and NHPA".
However, the court found the federal government's environmental assessment to be adequate. Among other things, the club argued that the EA was inadequate because it did not consider the possibility of cooperative use of the old clubhouse. The Ninth Circuit bought the Park Service's argument that the private clubhouse would likely be too small to accommodate additional demand and also noted that the because the club had long expressed a wish to remain private the Park Service could reasonably expect that the club would not be receptive to cooperative use.
The Ninth Circuit also rejected a long series of complaints by the club claiming that the EA was inadequate, including the allegation that the Park Service failed to take into account "reasonably foreseeable effects" of the new clubhouse. The EA noted that the new clubhouse would not compete with the old clubhouse because "it would not duplicate the private PGC clubhouse in function. Indeed, its function would be the polar opposite" - meaning it would be public rather than private.
Concluded the Ninth Circuit: "While we have found an adequate string of causation necessary to confer standing, it does not necessarily follow that such a highly attenuated chain of causation as the Club alleges would lead to injuries cognizable under NEPA." Regarding NHPA, the court concluded that the Park Service was required to take the views of interested parties into account but nothing more. Thus, the court accepted as adequate the Park Service's conclusion that because the two clubhouses would not compete the historic clubhouse would not be endangered.
Presidio Golf Course v. National Park Service, No. 97-16703, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 10104 (filed September 21, 1998).
Nicholas C. Yost, Sonnenschein, Nash & Rosenthal, (415) 882-2440.
Ronald M. Spritzer, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
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