For Immediate Release, October 21, 2020


Tiffany Yap, DEnv/PhD, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 847-5838,
Van Collinsworth, Preserve Wild Santee, (619) 777-8268,

Lawsuit Challenges Southern California Sprawl Development

Project in Fire-prone Area Will Endanger People, Vulnerable Wildlife

SAN DIEGO— Conservation groups sued the city of Santee today for approving Fanita Ranch, a 2,600-acre housing development that would put about 3,000 homes in highly fire-prone wildlands where numerous threatened and endangered species thrive.

The area is located within a Santa Ana wind-driven fire corridor, and CalFire has designated nearly the entire project site as a “very high fire hazard severity zone.” Despite the state’s record-breaking wildfire season, the city still rushed to approve the development last month.

“Even with repeated warnings from fire experts, Santee officials illegally fast-tracked this dangerous development,” said Tiffany Yap, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The city is ignoring the climate crisis, increasing wildfire danger and prioritizing developer profits over the safety of new residents and existing communities. Reckless sprawl development like the Fanita Ranch project endangers the people and unique biodiversity of San Diego County.”

State biologists have expressed concerns about the project’s impacts on sensitive species and wildlife connectivity. Almost the entire Fanita Ranch site is designated critical habitat for the federally threatened coastal California gnatcatcher. In one year alone, 39 breeding pairs and 42 individuals of gnatcatchers were observed using the area. The project site is also important habitat for other rare species, including western spadefoot toads, Quino checkerspot butterflies and San Diego fairy shrimp.

Efforts to reduce wildfire risk and conserve species can work in concert. In fact a recent study has shown that prioritizing conservation in high fire-prone areas of San Diego County has led to reduced wildfire risk and improved biodiversity conservation.

“The project overlaps with dangerous fire-risk areas and known populations of sensitive species,” said Van Collinsworth of Preserve Wild Santee. “And last-minute changes to the project’s development plan removed one of the main roadway connections, making safe evacuations even more difficult and worsening local traffic.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee, Endangered Habitats League and California Chaparral Institute. It asserts that the city’s environmental impact report for the project violated the California Environmental Quality Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.