Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Why We Sued City Hall (and Won)

Letters to the Editor submitted to The Coronado Times are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher, editors or writers of this publication. Submit letters to [email protected].

Submitted by John A Frangos

At the hearing of the environmental review of the bayfront golf course sewage plant (aka water recycling and turf care facility) on November 3, 2020, 35 residents submitted written comments. All but one opposed the project citing a number of environmental concerns and demanded a full environmental impact review (EIR) be conducted prior to approval by the Coronado City council. Only one resident, on the 600 block of Glorietta Blvd., supported the project. Despite the overwhelming public opposition, the City Council went ahead and voted to adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the project, in effect stating it would not pose a significant environmental impact. In response, over a dozen Coronado residents (most not residents of Glorietta Blvd.) organized themselves into a 501(c)4 group called Coronado Citizens for Transparent Government. CCTG filed two lawsuits against the City of Coronado for failure to adequately address the environmental impact of the project and violating laws regulating construction along earthquake fault lines.

Last Friday, San Diego Superior Court ruled in the first lawsuit that the City of Coronado “failed to fully comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)”. Furthermore, “the City must perform a full environmental analysis and EIR in all relevant areas.”

The second lawsuit is pending and addresses the earthquake laws and the failure of the City Council in properly conducting a public hearing on a seismology study performed and adopted after the initial MND adoption. Here, the City Council used the Consent Calendar mechanism to avoid thorough public comment, contrary to CEQA law. This lawsuit may become moot if the City chooses not to appeal the first lawsuit.

Emails which came to light during the legal discovery process revealed that even the City’s design and environmental consultant, whose fee was just under $1 million, recommended that a full EIR be performed. Those emails (amongst over seven thousand pages we reviewed) showed how the Director of Development, Richard Grunow, and the now-former Director of Public Services and Engineering, Cliff Mauer, arbitrarily dismissed the consultant’s advice on this and other matters and instead advocated that the City adopt a MND.

Apart from its environmental impact failings, the proposed project was a financial disaster before construction would begin. A number of citizens have written letters about the magical thinking the City subscribed to in estimating the costs to be $20-24 million. In July 2021, the three finalist design-build contractors quoted the construction costs alone to range from $62 to $88 million. Considering actual costs with inflation and maintenance and operating costs, the projected reclaimed water costs would be several multiples of potable water costs over the lifetime of the project.

The golfing community in Coronado, the presumed primary beneficiary of this project, should also come to terms with the costs. Based on the financial methodology used by the former Director of Financial Administration, Jim Krueger (with whom we had a lengthy discussion), we estimated the increase in greens fees to finance this project. Using the quotes from the design-build contractors, maintenance and operating expenses, and current interest rates, we project that greens fees will increase by $40 for each and every round, regardless of golf package or residency status. This represents a more than doubling of current greens fees. In our calculations, we assumed that the number of rounds of golf per year would remain at 100,000. If, however, in the likely event that the fee hikes will depress demand for golfing on the course, the fees will increase even further in order to cover the financing payment.

We call on the City Council and city staff to include us in the course of developing a full EIR to address the drought-proofing of the golf course, Orange Avenue medians and public parks. Over the past four years our group has investigated multiple approaches to achieve this goal. Our investigations have included the review of hundreds of documents and consultation with a number of experts. Viable alternatives include delivery of reclaimed water from Chula Vista and accessing deep groundwater. With the departure of strident and intransigent former city staff such as Blair King, Cliff Mauer and Roger Miller, and a turnover in most of the City Council, this is an opportunity to cooperate transparently with us to address this important issue. In any case, the CCTG will remain vigilant in holding the City to account.

John A Frangos, PhD
President, Coronado Citizens for Transparent Government


Managing Editor
Managing Editor
Originally from upstate New York, Dani Schwartz has lived in Coronado since 1996. She is happy to call Coronado home and to have raised her children here. In her free time she enjoys reading, exercising, trying new restaurants, and just walking her dog around the "island." Have news to share? Send tips or story ideas to: [email protected]

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