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America's Cup Environmental Impact Report Approved By San Francisco Planning Commission, But A Fight Looms Ahead

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The San Francisco planning commission unanimously approved the America's Cup environmental impact report Thursday, bringing one of the world's biggest sporting events one step closer to our city's waters come next summer.

But this is San Francisco, after all, and in our fair city, nothing goes down without a fight. Accordingly, a handful of environmental and neighborhood advocacy groups immediately filed an appeal -- a gesture that may present more than a few hurdles.

The commission's decision will allow for construction to begin along the waterfront come January, pending a green light from the Board Of Supervisors, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. While coalitions like the Golden Gate Audubon Society and the Telegraph Hill Dwellers said the impact report adequately addressed concerns about air and water quality, the groups remain troubled about factors ranging from traffic jams to the destruction of native plant life.

"We're puzzled and dismayed that our expertise, efforts and goodwill and that of city staff have resulted in a document that, massive though it is, fails to provide the environmental certainty required by law," the organizations said in a letter to the planning commission.

The report “is not procedurally or substantively adequate, accurate or objective,” attorney Keith Wagner of Lippe Gaffney Wagner LLP said on behalf of the groups filing the appeal.

The appeal may lead to lengthy lawsuits, which would stall construction of the many projects ahead. But the city doesn't have much time -- the first boats are scheduled to hit the bay next July, culminating in a whirlwind of final racing events during the following summer.

In the months in between, tenants along the waterfront -- like San Francisco's famed Teatro ZinZanni -- will be displaced, and behemoth new structures like the America's Cup walkable village and the 88,000 square foot James R. Herman Cruise Terminal will be built in their places. In the meantime, the commission must also approve a viable relocation plan for the existing waterfront businesses.

Mayor Ed Lee remains enthusiastic about the impending event, and both he and America's Cup executives expressed mutual appreciation for one another on Friday. ““This agreement represents an unprecedented investment into our waterfront, generating thousands of jobs and allowing for a major international sporting event to be held in our Bay’’s natural amphitheater,”" the mayor said in a statement.

““We thank Mayor Lee for his great vision of how the America’’s Cup can leave a lasting legacy for the City and residents of San Francisco,”" board member Stephen Barclay echoed.

The event will cost a whopping $300 million, $32 million of which will be raised by the nonprofit America's Cup Organizing Committee on behalf of the city. But according to the San Francisco Examiner, members of the committee have kept quiet as to how they plan to raise such a sum, and some city officials are concerned. "That's always been an overarching concern," Supervisor David Campos told the Examiner, noting that taxpayers would be forced to pay the leftovers should the committee fail to meet its fundraising goal.

And it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for the America's Cup executive team, either. Last month, the San Francisco Business Times reported that event CEO Craig Thompson left the organization as a result of "lackluster financial performance." Richard Worth, chairman of the America's Cup Event Authority, will replace him.

What do you think of the impending mega-event? Great exposure for the city, or a disaster in disguise? Read the full America's Cup environmental impact report here if you dare, and be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.

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