Climate concerns prompt suit over Warriors arena

By Debra Kahn | 10/14/2016 01:15 PM EDT

Several prominent California environmental groups have joined a lawsuit against a planned basketball arena in San Francisco, arguing it could set a precedent for enforcement of climate laws in the state.

The lawsuit against the planned Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco argues, among other things, that the Warriors violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to properly analyze the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that the 18,000-seat stadium would produce.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Communities for a Better Environment and the Coalition for Clean Air filed an amicus brief yesterday in the 1st District Court of Appeal arguing that last year’s environmental impact report improperly found the project would create no net increase in greenhouse gases.

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The report estimated that construction would cause an additional 10,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases and ongoing operations would create roughly an additional 4,000 metric tons annually, compared to activities at the existing stadium in Oakland. The team would buy carbon offsets to mitigate the emissions.

"Offsetting emissions is not the same as eliminating or reducing them," said Doug Carstens, an attorney for the three groups. The groups are also arguing that the Warriors improperly relied on a previous environmental impact report for the site from 1998 and a broad certification from the state Air Resources Board that said the project would not result in a net emissions increase.

"We really don’t want for the Court of Appeal to say that’s OK, because then agencies are going to start moving away from quantification of emissions," Carstens said. "That might be OK in some contexts, but not in this, where they’re claiming net zero and their emissions so far as we can tell are at least 21,000 metric tons a year."

The groups are citing a landmark California Supreme Court decision last year that found a 12,000-acre development in Southern California used an overly broad method of calculating whether its greenhouse gases would constitute a significant impact under CEQA (E&ENews PM, Nov. 30, 2015).

The current suit has been expedited under A.B. 900, a law that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed last year that allows accelerated legal proceedings for "environmental leadership development projects" that produce no net increase in greenhouse gases. Oral arguments are scheduled for Nov. 16.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office released a statement in support of the team, which won a decision earlier this year in San Francisco Superior Court.

"In sum, the amicus brief reiterates arguments that the Mission Bay Alliance already raised and that the trial court categorically rejected," said Andrea Guzman, the San Francisco city attorney’s deputy press secretary. "We expect the Court of Appeal will do the same."

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