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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Central Subway: North Beach Merchants Lawyer Up, Fire Legal Salvo (Update)

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 5:06 PM

Not so fast... - JIM HERD

In a possible precursor to a lawsuit directed at the controversial Central Subway project, the North Beach Business Association has hired a lawyer to fire off a "demand letter" to Muni. Attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley's brief note puts two options on the city's plate:

A. Immediately cease the planned construction of a 2,000-foot tunnel to extract tunnel-boring machines from a massive hole on Columbus between Union and Filbert until conducting extensive environmental reviews, or 

B. Face the legal consequences.

"We will do whatever we can to stop this extraction plan," says Dan Macchiarini, an NBBA board member. "Whatever it takes -- we will go to the limit and people will come forward with the funding."

Brandt-Hawley's letter was actually written on behalf of the "Citizens for Sensible Transit." But Kathleen Dooley, the vice president of the NBBA, notes that it was her group which ponied up enough funds "to get the ball rolling."

Muni has not yet replied to a request for comment on Brandt-Hawley's letter and the possibility of litigation.

With serious work -- and long road closures -- under way on the Central Subway project, North Beach residents and merchants have complained with increasing vigor that their lives and livelihoods will be ripped apart in order to construct a subway that isn't planned to extend to their neighborhood in the near future -- if at all.

The plan to dig nearly half a mile beyond the last stop of the subway -- at a minimum estimated cost of $70 million -- and extract the tunnel boring machines in the heart of North Beach has been described to area residents as the "least disruptive" option. Other possibilities include disassembling and backing the machines out of the tunnel or leaving whatever components of the $24 million devices that can't be resold underground.

Muni has not yet responded to a public records request to provide the methodology indicating the North Beach extraction option is the most cost-effective and "least disruptive." Its presentation to North Beach residents can be viewed here.

Critics of the Central Subway accuse Muni of attempting to have its tunnel and bore it, too. If Muni is really committed to spending upward of $70 million to recover whatever fraction of the machines' $24 million sticker price it can recoup, then it's guilty of bad math, charges transit expert and former Muni engineer Jerry Cauthen. And if Muni is attempting to bore a tunnel and create a large cement footprint that will serve as the future site of the as-yet unfunded proposal to extend the Central Subway to North Beach, it's doing so ahead of conducting necessary environmental procedures. "To me," says Cauthen, "this is an extension they are trying to cover by saying it's an extraction location."

That's the tack Brandt-Hawley made in her letter to Muni chief Ed Reiskin.

The move to transform an extraction tunnel into "a permanent foundation for a new station has significant unstudied environmental impacts," she wrote. "Alternatives cannot receive meaningful study once construction proceeds.... Environmental review must occur as early as feasible in the planning process so that it is not simply a post-hoc rationalization for decisions already made."

Muni also faces potential litigation over Central Subway critics' claims it violated a little-known section of the City Charter by moving ahead to construct a station on park-owned land at Union Square without putting the matter up for a vote. Both a lawyer and principal litigant are being sought in that case, SF Weekly has learned. 

"We are not going to let them destroy small businesses in North Beach because they want to put a subway in here," says Macchiarini. "It may be the greatest thing since Parmesan cheese and cappuccinos for North Beach, but right now we can't tell if it'll benefit us or not. But we do know the extraction plan will destroy 20 to 60 percent of the businesses in the vicinity. This was just a knucklehead decision."

Update (6:10 p.m.): Muni spokesman Paul Rose says "We have full confidence that this project will move forward, but we are currently reviewing the language of this letter and will respond at an appropriate time."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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