For Immediate Release – Nov 4, 2022
Contacts: Duncan McFetridge, Cleveland National Forest Foundation Tel: (619) 445-9638 Email: [email protected]
Livia Borak Beaudin, Coast Law Group Tel: 760-942-8505 Email: [email protected]
LAWSUIT CHALLENGES SAN DIEGO COUNTY’S FAILURE TO ADDRESS CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE FROM VEHICLE TRAVEL (AGAIN)
SAN DIEGO, CA – On November 2, 2022, Cleveland National Forest Foundation (“CNFF”) and Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (“CERF”) filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court challenging San Diego County’s Transportation Study Guide (“TSG”) draft and its failures to adequately address the climate and environmental impacts of vehicle travel as required by Senate Bill 743 (“SB 743”).
Under the guise that developments in existing rural areas are “infill”, the County’s plan creates incentives to build projects in areas where vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”) is already high, thereby increasing instead of decreasing VMT. Increasing emissions from transportation contradicts the kind of urgent climate action required by SB 743 and needed to keep global warming below dangerous thresholds.
“San Diego County keeps doubling down on sprawling, car-centered development and thumbing its nose at the law. We need a paradigm shift that unites alternative transportation and affordable housing in the urban areas, as envisioned in SANDAG’s series 14 forecast, not the same-old-same-old backcountry sprawl, ecological destruction, and endless, dangerous commutes,” said Duncan McFetridge, Director of CNFF.
“We have continued to invest our time and resources to engage with county staff and leadership to help develop reasonable policies to comply with SB 743 following prior failures to do so. We need urban-centered solutions to the affordable housing crisis, not broad-sweeping exemptions for the backcountry,” said Sara Ochoa, Programs Director at CERF. “While this iteration of the TSG is an improvement, it still fails to ensure the County reduces VMT, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution. Instead of mitigating VMT impacts, this plan simply wishes them away.”
The Legislature enacted Senate Bill 743 in 2013 in order to change the way the transportation impacts of development are addressed under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). After SB 743, rather than focusing on measures of traffic congestion and delay, agencies must address VMT or other measures that more accurately reveal and more effectively reduce the climate, air quality, and other impacts of vehicle travel.
SB 743 supports California’s broader climate goals by ensuring that analysis and mitigation of environmental impacts under CEQA will aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, the state’s largest source of climate pollution. Indeed, the California Air Resources Board has found that without significant reductions in VMT at the local planning level, achieving California’s climate goals will be impossible.
The lawsuit challenges that San Diego County’s TSG subverts the legislation it is supposed to be implementing. Rather than require analysis of future projects’ contribution to VMT in accordance with SB 743, the County’s plan will create sweeping exceptions from VMT analysis requirements. Aspects of the County’s “thresholds of significance” for whether a project should be subject to heightened environmental impact analysis seem designed to exempt a significant amount of development from having to evaluate or mitigate their transportation impacts.
“The County keeps taking legal shortcuts, and it keeps losing in court,” said McFetridge. “We’re running out of precious time to start solving our housing and transportation problems in San Diego. We need to stop playing legal games that endanger critically important backcountry biodiversity with misplaced urbanization.”
CNFF and CERF are represented in the litigation by Coast Law Group LLP. A copy of the petition and complaint can be found here.