SAN FRANCISCO, December 12, 2019 – For years, the National Park Service (NPS) has tried to restrict recreational activities within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a world-famous urban park spanning more than 80,000 acres across San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties. Baker Botts attorneys successfully blocked prior efforts to restrict recreational activities via a lawsuit filed in San Francisco that resulted in the termination of a formal federal rulemaking process. NPS seeks to again impose similar restrictions and Baker Botts has today filed pro bono suits on behalf of a large group of San Francisco Bay Area residents.
Both suits arise out of the GGNRA’s efforts to impose, through its 2019 Superintendent’s Compendium, a number of limitations on the ability of people to walk with their dogs within the GGNRA. One suit is a challenge under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to the GGNRA’s publication of the 2019 Superintendent’s Compendium. The other action is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit. Both lawsuits are pending in the United States District for the Northern District of California.
The plaintiffs allege that in publishing the 2019 Compendium, the GGNRA circumvented multiple statutory and regulatory requirements in an attempt to unilaterally place into law, without requisite process or support, significant limitations and restrictions on dog walking within the GGNRA.
“This most recent action by the GGNRA significantly alters the patterns of dog walking that have occurred for over half of a century in this popular recreation area,” said Chris Carr, litigation partner at Baker Botts. “Over the last two decades, courts have ruled on several occasions that the GGNRA failed to follow its own regulations and provide the required notice and opportunity for public comment when making similar changes.”
Four years ago, the plaintiffs submitted a FOIA request to the GGNRA, requesting public records about its proposed “Dog Rule” that would have limited and restricted people’s ability to walk with their dogs on the Bay Area’s federal public recreation lands. Documents uncovered in that litigation resulted in the NPS ending that rulemaking process.
The 2019 Compendium imposes many of the same restrictions and limitations on access and use for people with dogs that the GGNRA had sought to impose through its earlier Dog Rule.
The plaintiffs argue that the changes to dog walking contained in the 2019 Compendium run afoul of the NPS regulations authorizing superintendents to institute closures and public use limits. In particular, unless such an action is routine, minor and uncontroversial, and does not cause a significant alteration in public use patterns, it must be undertaken through notice-and-comment rulemaking.
“Simply put, the changes to access for people and their dogs included in the 2019 Compendium have not been issued through the requisite rulemaking process, nor has the impact of these changes been evaluated as required by law,” said Navi Dhillon of Baker Botts. “It is disappointing that litigation is required yet again to ensure GGNRA’s adherence to the legal requirements regarding access to these popular lands.”
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