7/1/10 A Humboldt County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday after a hearing on legal challenges to the commission's jurisdiction over the Balloon Track property cleanup.
The Balloon Track property is a former railyard that requires the cleanup of contaminated soil and removal of debris -- the current “toxic” conditions impact storm water and Humboldt Bay. The 43-acre property is located at the foot of Eureka's downtown commercial district off Waterfront Drive. After the cleanup is finished, Security National subsidiary Clean Up Eureka VI has proposed turning it into a mixed use development called the Marina Center.
Security National subsidiary Clean Up Eureka VI and local group Citizens for a Better Eureka filed separate lawsuits against the commission, challenging the commission's jurisdiction to review the coastal development permit issued by the city of Eureka and the interim cleanup plan approved by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Balloon Track property. The lawsuits were heard together.
It is slated to include a Home Depot store, retail, office and residential space, along with an 11-acre wetland reserve.
Judge John Feeney began the hearing on Wednesday by stating his tentative decision to rule in favor of the Coastal Commission. While legal representatives of the commission, CUE VI and Citizens for a Better Eureka made their arguments before Feeney, he ultimately ruled the commission had the legal authority to entertain an appeal of a coastal development permit issued by the city of Eureka.
”The Coastal Commission does have the authority and the jurisdiction to review this project,” he said, adding local jurisdiction does not supersede the commission's jurisdiction under the Coastal Act.
There were two main points of contention debated at the hearing. The first was whether the Coastal Act allowed the commission to review or modify the water board's decision on the cleanup plan. The second was whether the commission could review a city abatement issue to determine if it required a coastal permit.
Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Damien Schiff, representing Citizens for a Better Eureka, said in court that the commission couldn't limit the city of Eureka's ability on a property abatement according to the Coastal Act. Schiff said the commission's involvement would also only result in delaying the process of the abatement and the cleanup.
CUE VI attorney Gregory Broderick said the law states the commission cannot change the decisions made by the water board or the city of Eureka. He also emphasized only the cleanup was at issue, and any development proposed would receive a different set of permits.
”Nothing you do here today is going to make a building show up at that site,” Broderick argued.
Representing the Coastal Commission, Deputy Attorney General Joel Jacobs argued in court that the commission did have authority on the matter because the Balloon Track property was in the jurisdiction of the commission, the city of Eureka, and the water board.
”Each agency has a role to play, and each may impose its own conditions,” Jacobs said.
Security National Properties Vice President of Real Estate Development Mike Casey said after the hearing that CUE VI intended to appeal the decision.
”Let's just be clear -- this is special interest groups trying to do anything about stopping a project,” Casey said.
Schiff said he was unsure if Citizens for a Better Eureka would want to appeal the decision, but said they would be discussing the matter soon.
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