A lawsuit seeking to invalidate Measure T could derail funding efforts in Washington, D.C. by convincing Congress that a Devil's Slide tunnel is controversial, one tunnel advocate warned this week.
"Don't underestimate the effect of a local lawsuit and its effect upon decisions with respect to funding," said state Sen. Quentin Kopp, speaking at a public function in Pacifica on Saturday.
Kopp warned that members of Congress may hear about the lawsuit filed last week by local activist Oscar Braun and decide that funding a tunnel is too much trouble.
"Your natural reaction would be I'll vote to appropriate the money where there's no dispute," said Kopp, who, as a leading force in extending BART to San Francisco Airport and Millbrae, has witnessed firsthand congressional waffling due to controversy surrounding a project.
On April 15, Braun and Coastal Family Alliance, a small group of Higgins Canyon residents organized by Braun, filed two suits in San Mateo County Superior Court. No hearing dates have been set. The lawsuits do not seek an injunction against the tunnel, and as a result would not affect its progress unless or until a judgment is issued.
One suit is a complaint for declaratory relief against the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and the county. It accuses Measure T, the Devil's Slide Tunnel Initiative, of violating state law by usurping the California Transportation Commission's and California Department of Transportation's responsibility, as mandated by the Legislature, for transportation planning throughout the state.
"The design, development, and location of state highways and improvements . . . are matters of statewide concern," the lawsuit charges.
It also alleges that Measure T contained erroneous and misleading findings in its text about environmental impacts of the tunnel, and questions how such assertions could be made when no design has to this day been selected.
County Counsel Tom Casey said he believes the lawsuit against the county will be dismissed. He said the only option for a land use plan initiative submitted to the county is to put it on the ballot.
"It's for the voters to decide if they were misled," Casey said.
He also said that voters specifically provided that state highways in the Coastal Zone, including Highway 1, be subject to the requirements of the California Coastal Act, which puts them under the purview of the California Coastal Commission.
The second lawsuit was filed against the Coastal Commission and seeks a review of the procedure and evidence it relied upon in January to determine that Measure T is in compliance with the Coastal Act.
A spokesperson for the Coastal Commission's legal department declined comment on the lawsuit.
Tunnel supporter Lennie Roberts accused Braun of "trying to thwart the will of 73 percent of the voters."
Roberts disputed the suggestion that the ballot box was an inappropriate place to decide the issue of Devil's Slide. She echoed Casey's contention that the Coastal Act designates the Board of Supervisors as the appropriate government agency to decide the issue, and that the initiative and county voters are an extension of the five-member board. She reiterated a saying that since November's election has become almost a mantra among some CalTrans officials when asked about Devil's Slide: "Transportation is about local decision making."
Casey said the county will probably file a motion for a summary judgment or dismissal of its case. If it goes to trial, he estimated the county case would take between six and eight months to resolve, another 18 to 24 months if that judgment is appealed.