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Presidio Golf Club v. National Park Service

 

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In 1899, the Presidio Golf Club (the Club) was constructed on private land adjacent to the Presidio military facility in San Francisco. The Club’s golf course was actually on military property. Club membership was private, although military personnel could join for reduced rates. In 1994, the Presidio military facility closed, and ownership of the land was transferred to the National Park Service (Park Service). A year later, the Park Service contracted with Arnold Palmer Golf Management Company (Palmer Golf) to manage the golf course. Palmer Golf opened the golf course to public use and developed plans to construct a public clubhouse, potentially devaluing private membership at the Club.

As part of the development plans, the Park Service conducted an environmental assessment (EA) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).[1] Plaintiffs brought suit against the Park Service, claiming that the EA was inadequate under NEPA and that the new clubhouse would violate the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).[2] The Park Service in turn claimed that the Club did not have standing to sue. The district court found that the Club had standing, but that the Park Service had not acted arbitrarily or capriciously in preparing the EA. Thus, an environmental impact statement (EIS) was not required. The Club appealed.

The court first addressed the question of whether the appellants had standing under NEPA and the NHPA. In order to establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must show that 1) it has suffered an injury in fact that is imminent and particular, 2) there is a causal connection between the alleged harm and the defendant’s actions, and 3) the injury is redressable by a favorable ruling by the court.[3] Prudential barriers to standing, including a determination of whether the plaintiff’s injury is within the “zone of interests” that the statute at issue was meant to protect, also apply. The zone of interests stipulation is codified in section 702 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).[4]

In the present case, the Park Service claimed that the Club’s only interest was economic, and that NEPA and the NHPA do not protect interests that are purely economic in nature. The court rejected this argument. It reviewed the charter of the private club as well as the text of NEPA and the NHPA, and concluded that among the goals of the club was the intent to commune with nature and promote social harmony. These goals were also the intent of NEPA and the NHPA. Because the APA requires only that the interest of the plaintiff be “arguably” within the zone of interests protected by the statute, the Club had standing.

The court likewise addressed the question of whether the Club as an organization had standing. An organization has standing to sue if 1) individual members of the organization would have standing, 2) the interests that the organization seeks to protect in the present case are related to the purpose of the organization, and 3) the relief requested by the organization is not a request for damages.[5] The Park Service claimed that the Club did not have organizational standing because the purpose of the suit (alleged by the Park Service to be economic) was not related to the objectives of the Club. The court rejected this contention, citing its previous analysis that the intent of the Club was not purely economic, but social as well. Additionally, the court noted that the Club was requesting injunctive relief, not damages.

Next, the court addressed whether there was a causal connection between the decision of the Park Service to construct a public clubhouse and the harm allegedly suffered by the appellant. The court upheld the district court’s finding that the loss of membership suffered by the Club was not related to the construction of the public clubhouse, because the public clubhouse had not yet been built by the time that the Club began to notice a decrease in private membership. Therefore, this injury was not redressable. However, the Ninth Circuit noted that it was probable that the Club would lose more members when the public clubhouse was built, and this potential injury could be traced to the Park Service. This loss of members would be redressable by a favorable ruling at the appellate level.

The court then turned to the adequacy of the Park Service’s EA. The plaintiff raised several claims under NEPA, including the Park Service’s failure to adequately consider alternatives to the new clubhouse and the timing of the EA’s preparation. First, regarding the claim that the Park Service failed to consider other alternatives, the court noted that on several instances the agency had attempted to negotiate with the Club in order to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and that the Park Service had considered renovating the Club. However, both of these options were impractical (because of resistance from the Club itself and monetary and practical considerations), prompting the Park Service’s decision to build the public clubhouse. Therefore, the court held that the Park Service had considered a viable range of alternatives in the EA necessary to promote a reasoned decision as required by NEPA’s regulations.[6]

Second, the court addressed appellants’ claim that the EA had been prepared after the Park Service had decided to build the public clubhouse. The court dispensed with this concern quickly, noting that the examples in the record cited by appellants merely suggested that the Park Service had been reasonably sure that the new construction plan would be approved. According to the court, nothing in NEPA prevents an agency from expressing confidence that its preferred course of action will be adopted.

Finally, the court turned to appellants’ contention that the EA was inadequate and that an environmental impact statement should have been prepared to address the effects of constructing a new public clubhouse. In evaluating this claim, the court considered 1) the significance of the impact to the environment that the new clubhouse would have, 2) the impact on historical resources (namely the Presidio clubhouse), 3) the unique characteristics of the area, 4) whether the new construction was highly controversial, 5) whether the effects of the construction were uncertain, and 6) whether the failure to prepare an EIS for the new project would set poor precedent for future development. The court found for the Park Service, holding that the agency had not been arbitrary and capricious in preparing the EA. Thus, an EIS was not required.

The court explained that although the Presidio clubhouse was eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, the EA adequately demonstrated that this eligibility would not be threatened by the construction of the public clubhouse. The court also held that the EA adequately considered the particular ecological and cultural significance of the area. Next, although the public clubhouse was highly controversial among the Club’s private membership, the controversy did not warrant an EIS because the Park Service had effectively addressed the concerns raised by the members in the EA. The court rejected the contention that the Park Service did not resolve any uncertainties of the effects of the new clubhouse, because the EA was fairly detailed, outlined the expected impacts from the construction, and effectively resolved any concerns. Finally, the court did not believe that the Park Service’s failure to prepare an EIS would set poor precedent for the standards under which an EIS is required. Instead, the new construction was a single project that was unlike other construction and therefore did not threaten to become the standard under which an EIS should be prepared.

After holding that an EIS was not required, the court considered whether the Park Service had unreasonably refused to consider the Club an “interested person” under the NHPA. The plaintiffs claimed that the Park Service did not consult with them when developing its construction plan as required by the NHPA. The Park Service, on the other hand, maintained that it was not required to consult with the Club since it previously found, pursuant to the NHPA, that there would be no adverse impact. The plain meaning of the NHPA regulations only requires consultation with an interested party if the agency makes a determination of an adverse impact as a result of the planned action.[7] Otherwise, the agency is only required to give due consideration to the views of “interested persons.” The court concurred with the Park Service and held that no consultation was required.

Finally, the Ninth Circuit examined the issue of whether a litigation affidavit prepared by the Park Service was properly considered by the district court. The Ninth Circuit held that it was. In so holding, the court noted that although courts generally disfavor post hoc rationalizations, exceptions exist. One such exception is when the agency is attempting to elaborate upon its decision and the rationale behind it. Here, the court found that the affidavit had been created not to supplant a lack of information, but rather to clarify the existing record.


[1] National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370d (1994 & Supp. III 1997).

[2] National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, 16 U.S.C. §§ 470-470mm (1994 & Supp. III 1997).

[3] Presidio Golf Club v. National Park Serv., 155 F.3d 1153, 1157 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154 (1997)).

[4] 5 U.S.C. § 702 (1994).

[5] Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. at 165.

[6] 40 C.F.R. § 1500.1 (1998).

[7] 36 C.F.R. § 800.5(e) (1998).

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