SAN DIEGO— A judge on Thursday rejected the environmental review of a San Diego development that would pave over critical wildlife habitat while building 1,100 homes on fire-prone land.
A San Diego County Superior Court ruled that the county’s assessment of Otay Ranch Village 14 failed to adequately address and mitigate numerous concerns, including wildfire risks, greenhouse gas emissions, threats to the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly and other issues. Conservation groups sued the county for violating the California Environmental Quality Act. The California attorney general later joined the lawsuit.
“This is a big win for residents who are tired of watching the wildlands of San Diego County bulldozed by irresponsible and ill-conceived development,” said John Buse, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court recognized the real harms of building in such high fire-risk areas. Decisionmakers considering other dangerous projects in California’s fire-hazard zones should take note.”
Located east of Chula Vista, the proposed sprawl development encompasses more than 1,000 acres of wildlands in unincorporated San Diego County. The area has burned twice in 15 years.
The ruling found the county’s environmental study did not address the wildfire risks when bringing new residents to an area designated as a “very high fire hazard severity zone.” The court’s decision also cited the county’s failure to analyze the cumulative environmental impacts of the project and failure to comply with its general plan by not requiring affordable units in any of the planned 1,100 homes.
“The court found that the county did not inform the public of the project’s real impacts to wildfire risk, endangered animals and climate change, and did not provide the affordable housing it should have,” said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League. “Outdated, the project does not fit today’s world and today’s needs, nor the sustainability priorities of the new board of supervisors. We hope to work with all parties on alternative paths.”
“The judge protected the people of San Diego County from wildfire, sprawl development, the destruction of sensitive plants and animals, wildfire and the increased air pollution and greenhouse gas,” said Peter Andersen, chair of the Sierra Club’s San Diego Legal Committee. “In particular the decision does not permit the county to purchase offsets in faraway places that may not be real, additional or enforceable while leaving San Diegans vulnerable to increased air pollution, traffic and greenhouse gas.”
The ruling is in response to lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Habitats League, California Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, Preserve Wild Santee and the California Chaparral Institute.
The Endangered Habitats League and California Native Plant Society are represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP. The Sierra Club is represented by Chatten-Brown, Carstens and Minteer. The Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee and the California Chaparral Institute are represented by the Center for Biological Diversity.