Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, January 3, 2006


Page 4


C.A.: CEQA Review of Interior Remodel of Historic Building Unnecessary


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The remodeling of an interior area, not visible from the outside, of an historic building is not subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.

“[A]lthough a municipality has very broad statutory discretion to grant or deny a required building permit, that authority does not extend to imposing CEQA review upon such an interior home project, even where the residence is listed as a city landmark and is located within an area registered as a state and a national historic district,” San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Munter, sitting on assignment in Div. Four, wrote Thursday.

“What an owner plans to do to the private interior of his or her home does not implicate a significant adverse effect on the environment, which is the predicate for requiring CEQA review by a municipality,” the jurist explained.

The ruling is a victory for San Francisco millionaire Francis Martin, who wants to raise his living room ceiling, among other things. The plan has raised the ire of preservationists because Martin’s residence is the Atkinson House, an 1853 structure on Broadway in the city’s Russian Hill section; the interior was remodeled in 1893 under the guidance of the famed architect Willis Polk.

Martin’s plans call for not only removing the ceiling, but for taking out wall paneling and a staircase also dating from the Polk remodeling.

In insisting on CEQA review, at Martin’s expense, the city cited a section of the act calling for review of the remodeling of a private residence when it involves landmark buildings listed on the National Historic Registry. The entirety of Russian Hill was so designated in 1988, before Martin bought the house.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch sided with the city and denied Martin’s bid for declaratory relief.

Munter, however, said CEQA’s “historical resource” provision must be read in the context of the act as a whole, requiring that a project’s opponents demonstrate a significant impact on the environment before the project will be subject to review.

That which is not observable by, and has no physical effect upon, the general public cannot, by definition, be found to have such an impact, Munter declared.

“That sine qua non of CEQA is missing here; no one not actually inside Martin’s house will have any percipient awareness that interior modifications have been made,” the jurist wrote. “A purely intellectual understanding that work by Willis Polk may no longer be within an unobservable part of another person’s private living quarters will not suffice to establish a significant effect on the environment. That what Martin proposes may strike some as cultural vandalism will not bring it within the ambit of CEQA unless there is a physical impact on the environment.... Destruction of an irreplaceable antiquity not being savored by the public does not qualify as a significant effect.”

The case is Martin v. City and County of San Francisco, 06 S.O.S. 17.


Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company