Interior 
sued for Muir Woods bus stop

08/07/2014

As if the park service had not drawn enough ire in Marin County, a nonprofit coalition called the Mount Tam Task Force filed a lawsuit last Thursday against the Department of the Interior and employees of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area over a proposed bus stop and trail in Muir Beach, alleging that the government improperly exempted the project from the National Environmental Policy Act.

The task force claims the project could harm habitat, threatened species and seasonal wetlands, as well as bring an influx of traffic and visitors to the tiny beach-side community of roughly 300 people whom the nonprofit says were inadequately notified about the plans. Documents on the recreation area’s website assert that the project will ease existing traffic problems in the area and is exempt from environmental review because of its minor nature.

The lawsuit frames the bus stops as part of “a reckless venture to transform Muir Woods into an amusement park.” To that end, it says, the recreation area is seeking bids for a construction project for two 120-foot stops (one north-bound, one south-bound) around the intersection of Highway 1 and Pacific Way, as well as a new half-mile trail leading from the bus stops to Muir Beach. Bids are due Aug. 25 and construction is supposed to begin in September. The coalition is requesting that a judge prevent construction until an environmental review is complete.

“No private developer would ever be allowed to break ground without respecting the rules. We see no reason that GGNRA should be granted sweeping exceptions to regulations, laws, and common courtesies,” said Kristin Shannon, a co-chair of the coalition, in an email. 

Green Gulch Zen Center, which holds a conservation easement on park land, said it was not consulted about the plans and the center’s director, Sara Tashker, is looking into whether the trail would run through the easement.

The park service did not respond to a request for comment, but according to its website, the bus stop will serve the Muir Woods shuttle and West Marin Stagecoach and “will create new opportunities for transit-dependent and disabled visitors, further reduce automobile congestion on Highway 1, serve recreational bicyclists and pedestrians, and contribute to ecological improvements.” Service, it says, “will be limited.” 

The task force, however, says the park’s new general management plan outlines plans for increasing Muir Woods shuttle service—which, Ms. Shannon says, is for tourists, not locals. According to the preferred alternative, if funding is available, the shuttle could run every day in the peak season, up to every 15 minutes, and on weekends and holidays the rest of the year. The shuttle, the plan says, “would be a key to providing sustainable access to the monument.” (According to Ms. Shannon, Marin Transit told her coalition that buses could run every day, all year long and without limit.)

The coalition also said if the stops are large enough to accommodate tour buses, it will become impossible to prevent those buses from stopping in town. 

Supervisor Steve Kinsey wrote in an email this week that although he has not seen the plans for the bus stop, he supports them. He says the stop would be useful for the stagecoach, which was rerouted a few years ago when Highway 1 was being repaired. He said both he and Supervisor Kate Sears, who represents areas adjacent to the recreation area, “have presumed that the Park service would not be trampling wetlands or impacting other special status species in order to put a bus stop on Highway 1.” 

(The county, he added, is working on an ordinance to ban large commercial buses from county-maintained roads like those in the neighborhoods of Muir Beach.)

The park claims that the project qualifies for two exemptions from the NEPA: one pertaining to transportation projects that don’t involve construction, transit experiments and system alterations such as route changes; and another that exempts minor trail relocation and repair. 

The suit says those exemptions don’t apply on their face and are invalidated anyway by special circumstances. The “intensive use” of the bus stops could cause environmental harm to the nearby seasonal wetlands and habitat for the threatened red-legged frog and endangered coho salmon, the suit argues, and the trail could bring a barrage of new visitors that could also damage habitat. (The lawsuit quotes the project’s bidding documents as calling for “retaining walls, concrete pavement, guardrail, bridge rail, concrete barrier, pavement markings, striping, signage, helical piers, concrete structural deck, imported fill, grading, split fail fence, timber steps, site furnishings, curbing, aggregate paving and all work associated with the detailed contract documents.”)

The task force also takes issue with the park service’s claim that it made its plans for the bus stop clear to the community.

On the project website, the park says it discussed the project with the Muir Beach Community Service’s District three times, including in February, when it says the issue was specifically on the agenda and the project’s design and schedule were presented.

The February agenda posted to the district’s website, however, does not mention the bus stop specifically, and board member Paul Jeschke says he doesn’t recall any presentation. “I was certainly at the meeting, and I can tell you that I have absolutely no recollection of any sort of a presentation. They certainly didn’t present any drawings or schematics or plans of any sort and I don’t even remember them discussing it in general terms. I can’t say categorically that it didn’t come up…[but] if they mentioned a bus stop, it was done in such an offhand manner that I didn’t notice and I don’t think anyone else did.”