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Group sued over garden demo plan

College of San Mateo students and employees want to save a small garden

The Daily Journal | June 21, 2011

The slated demolition of portions of a small native garden and the building next to it to make room for a parking lot spawned a lawsuit from College of San Mateo students and employees demanding a full environmental impact report be prepared. 
 
The building, known as Building 20, is home to programs like horticulture and floristry. Next door is a small garden with a variety of plants and three greenhouses. Most could be demolished as part of a larger bond-funded construction plan to allow for more parking — plans which the bond oversight committee found as being in accordance with the voter-approved uses of bond funds. Last week, Friends of the College of San Mateo Garden filed a lawsuit against the San Mateo County Community College District and its Board of Trustees calling for a full environmental impact report of the demolition. 
 
“Despite evidence of potentially significant environmental effects, the board refused to conduct an environmental review process to analyze impacts of the demolition and to consider feasible alternatives,” according to the lawsuit filed by Susan Brandt-Hawley, a lawyer from Glen Ellen representing the group. 
Barbara Christensen, director of community and government relations, explained the district acted upon legal advice. 
 
“Based on advice of our environmental attorney and consultants who completed the CEQA work for us, we believe we have acted lawfully,” she said. 
 
Voters approved Measure A, a $468 million bond, in 2005. Those opposing the demolition previously attended board meetings to question how plans fit with the proposed voter-approved work and the long-term master plans. Students argued the plan will create 125 to 200 parking spaces, a larger lot than needed. They had requested a smaller parking lot while maintaining the area’s greenery. 
 
CSM President Michael Claire previously explained bond project plans are fluid. Looking again at the plans, it didn’t make as much sense to refurbish a building that won’t be widely used. Also, parking on the north side of the campus is sparse. The lot is currently slated to be staff parking, but Claire said parking issues change often and it could be used by students in the future.
 
The horticulture program has been on hiatus for two years, due to budget cuts, and the floristry program serves 4.3 full-time equivalent students, according to the district. The remaining classroom is unneeded and most of the building systems are beyond their “service life,” according to the district. The district further clarified “only 13,500 square feet of garden (out of approximately 50,000 square feet of garden) will be destroyed.” In addition, the district will transplant species critical to science classes or purchase new specimens. 
 
Those against the demolition still believe the plans will have unintended consequences like losing a beloved outdoor space. 

An excerpt from one employee’s letter included in the lawsuit said “the garden is the only place left on campus where students, faculty and staff can go to get away from the concrete and rigid plots of monoculture plantings that have taken over the campus, where we can enjoy nature’s kindness, bounty and wonder, relax and sit on the grass and leisurely explore and experience its mini-climates and ecosystems so carefully nurtured over the past 40 years.” 

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