San Diego The April 21 report is called "a cautionary tale that the general public and the San Diego City Council should consider when future major land-use opportunities are presented." Written by the San Diego County Grand Jury, it recommends to the city council "not to allow new residential and school uses in noise-impact areas" and to "give serious consideration to adverse health impacts when evaluating development and use proposals." The recommendations are based on nine major findings on the development of Point Loma's Liberty Station after the U.S. Navy transferred 430 acres of land to the city in 1997.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune on April 6, the project already has 349 homes, "almost all of them occupied, with homeowners paying annual assessments ranging from $2138 to $4307." Corky McMillin Companies is the city's developer for the project.
In compiling its report, the grand jury says it consulted city staff and the city's redevelopment agency, interviewed private citizens, watched videotapes of the city's planning commission and the city council, studied "a current Lindbergh Field noise-contour map" on how the airport measures noise, searched the Internet to understand noise effects, and reviewed planning and other documents. In the first of three appendices, the jury lists 35 documents reviewed for the report.
The grand jury titled its report "Naval Training Center San Diego: A Gift to the Citizens of San Diego." But the report's first finding is that "the general public did not play an active role in the planning process" leading to certain Liberty Station characteristics.
Back in 1993, Mayor Susan Golding created a 26-member citizens group called the NTC Reuse Committee. The group formed six subcommittees: economic development, education, environment, homeless assistance, park and recreation, and interim-use review. The grand jury report maintains there was "very little interaction among the subcommittees" and that citizens had only "at-large public meetings presided over by the Mayor" to review their work. For the first three years of planning, most of the public comment the reuse committee received came from Point Loma residents worried parts of the project would be devoted to housing the homeless. Density and traffic congestion issues also came to the fore.
The grand jury's second finding was that "The San Diego City Council's actions adopting the Reuse Plan and certifying the [final environmental impact report] foreclosed any opportunity to consider other alternatives for the site." Other alternatives were considered, but only after the reuse committee wrote the Naval Training Center Reuse Concept Plan in 1996. The city council adopted the plan in 1998, at the same time commissioning an environmental impact report for the project. The other alternatives considered made their first appearance in the final environmental impact report. They were an entertainment alternative, a low-traffic alternative, a high-traffic alternative, and a minimal airport-expansion alternative.
Using the final environmental impact report, the city council adopted in 2001 the NTC Precise Plan and Local Coastal Program, which became the blueprint for the Liberty Station project. According to the grand jury, when the organization Surfers Tired of Pollution "requested that an EIR be prepared to address a reasonable range of alternatives including a place where the public's need for more open space and parkland can be realized," they were told that "exhaustive analyses of project alternatives" had already been done. The grand jury then notes that the reuse plan's final environmental impact report revealed that going forward would cause "significant unavoidable project-specific and cumulative impacts to traffic and circulation." So the city council adopted a Statement of Overriding Considerations declaring that a number of economic and social benefits of the reuse plan outweighed its harrmful impacts. But "the Statement of overriding considerations is a justification for development." This is the grand jury's third finding about the evolution of the Liberty Station initiative.
The jury's fourth finding is that "the City Council's desire to develop the site has resulted in the City allowing new uses on the site which do not comply with acceptable land use/noise compatibility guidelines." The judgment arises from a comparison of the scientifically established 65-decibel community allowable noise level with noise levels found on former Naval Training Center locations. Roughly 65 percent of the 430 acres "lie in a noise impact area of 65 decibels or greater," according to the jury's report, which limited its attention to noise emanating from Lindbergh Field. Noting that residences, schools, hospitals, and places of worship don't belong in noise areas of 65 decibels or greater, the grand jury argues that even "sound insulation as a mitigation action" is not sufficient to mitigate noise levels that are too high in a given location because they only work inside buildings. But the city council's plan for reusing the former Naval Training Center includes educational uses in areas with airport noise between 65 and 70 decibels. At the same time, according to the grand jury, the council is requiring that "the interior noise level of the educational facilities not exceed 45 decibels."
"Significant adverse impacts from noise" are well identified in the environmental paperwork completed for the reuse of the former Naval Training Center. But according to the grand jury's report, they are treated as harmless. Thus, the jury says in its fifth finding that "the decision to identify noise impacts as a plan inconsistency issue rather than a health issue made it easier for the public and decision makers to overlook the fact that the plan and implementing projects would cause harm to NTC residents and schoolchildren subjected to those noise impacts."
In a sixth finding the grand jury writes, "Children attending schools in the Educational Use area [will be] exposed to single-noise events at harmful levels when they are in their school's outdoor areas," an obvious reference to jets taking off from Lindbergh Field. The noise levels at the school sites, according to the jury report, are from 79 to 110 decibels when an airliner is taking off over them. The report then asserts, "Continued exposure to noise above 85 decibels over time will cause hearing loss." It notes further that exposure of one minute and 29 seconds to 110 decibels would be damaging to human hearing. And "under normal conditions," says the jury, "more than 200 flights per day take off over the Educational Use area."
Three specific schools with proposals to locate in the educational area of Liberty Station are the subject of remaining grand-jury findings. They are Rock Academy, High Tech High and Middle Schools, and Explorer Elementary Charter School. Students of all three "will be exposed to single-noise events at harmful levels when they are in their school's outdoor areas," the grand jury finds. The original Liberty Station plan for its educational area was for community college and other adult education venues to use it, according to the jury.
Rock Academy and Church wants to renovate Building 94 of the old Naval Training Station complex. The school foresees teaching 2000 students from preschool to 12th grade. The High Tech High and Explorer Elementary Schools propose to share nearby Building 83.
One set of recordings of single noise events near Building 94 showed noise levels that averaged 90 to 95 decibels, according to the grand jury. Yet "the [San Diego] Planning Commission," it notes, "approved the permit for the Rock Academy because the use was consistent with the Precise Plan," despite the commission's having considered noise testimony. The city council signaled the go-ahead to High Tech High and Explorer Elementary to use Building 83 for K through 12 purposes. It did not receive the single-noise event information ahead of time, says the jury.
Under provisions of section 933(c) of the California Penal Code, the San Diego City Council has 90 days, or until July 21, to comment to the presiding judge of the superior court on the grand jury's report. The council must agree with each finding of the report or explain why it disagrees. In addition, according to the report, the council must tell the presiding judge how each of its recommendations has been implemented, how and when they will be implemented, why they need further analysis, or why they will not be implemented.