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    How and when San Diego will address its regional transportation needs over the next 40 years is once again an open question.

    A San Diego County Superior Court judge on Tuesday upheld a lawsuit challenging the San Diego Association of Governments’ comprehensive, 40-year transportation plan.

    Judge Timothy Taylor ruled Sandag didn’t adequately address its plan’s effects on global climate change and didn’t comply with new state regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas levels.


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    Taylor said the transportation plan’s ultimate fate is likely to be decided by a state appellate court, though that’s not set in stone.

    The $200 billion plan outlined spending for highways, local roads and public transportation throughout the county. While the plan would spend more on public transit than on any other sources, it pushed those projects to the back of the line.

    Environmentalists, affordable housing advocates and others opposed the plan because they said deferring transit spending would increase greenhouse gas levels and further cement the region’s auto-centric approach, decreasing the likelihood that transit projects would be pursued in the first place after widened highways decreased congestion and made driving more appealing.

    Sandag’s plan has become a statewide sticking point because it’s the first regional transportation plan put forward since a 2008 law required agencies to reduce greenhouse gasses, making this the first court interpretation of the regulatory burden facing regional planning groups.

    The ruling

    Tuesday’s ruling, which mirrored a tentative ruling issued before Thanksgiving, said Sandag’s plan failed to clearly define its effects on greenhouse gasses, how to mitigate them and didn’t adequately explain decisions within the plan.

    Specifically, Sandag’s environmental review didn’t conform to an executive order issued by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005.

    Sandag’s plan allows greenhouse gasses to increase from 2020 through 2050, even though state requirements, based on the executive order, seek to reduce those levels during the same period.

    The judge also took issue with the plan’s reliance on individual jurisdictions to deal with the negative environmental effects of each specific project, rather than holding itself accountable for doing so within the overall plan.

    The court said the plan’s environmental review didn’t meet California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards, which require an environmental review for any project that may affect the environment.

    Opposition to the plan materialized long before it was finalized, primarily because of its lack of urgency on public transit.

    The lawsuit, initially filed by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity but later joined by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, was primarily focused on the inadequacy of the environmental review.

    Setting precedent

    Sandag’s plan and the resulting lawsuit represented the first time a regional planning group put forward a comprehensive transportation schedule since a 2008 law requiring all such documents demonstrate a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    Planning groups all over California were eyeing this case for guidance on complying with the new state requirements.

    Sandag’s plan also included for the first time something called a “sustainable communities strategy,” intended to outline greenhouse gas reduction methods by encouraging dense, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

    “What’s really important is this case makes clear that public agencies have to comply with laws to cut air pollution and address climate disruption,” said Rachel Hooper, who represented opponents of the plan. “The fact that Sandag was the first to prepare a sustainable communities strategy did not give them a free pass from environmental disclosure laws. They are the leader in the region and it’s their responsibility to uphold these laws.”

    What’s next

    There’s still a chance the case could be settled without the appellate court.

    Sandag’s opponents will propose a final judgment, including potential remedies for the plan, for the court’s consideration.

    If Sandag is willing to negotiate, it could keep the case from proceeding to the appeals process.

    Opponents of the plan outlined some of the potential remedies in court last week, including expediting transit spending, adopting basic mitigation measures like transit-oriented development or getting Sandag’s member agencies to adopt climate action plans.

    If the parties can’t reach a compromise, the court would provide its own final judgment after the plan’s opponents offer their proposal.

    Sandag would then have 90 days to appeal the court’s decision.

    Sandag spokeswoman Colleen Windsor said the organization’s board is meeting Friday to discuss its next steps.

    “We still support our (regional transportation plan) and we still believe our (environmental impact review) complies with CEQA,” she said.

    I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter

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    Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

      This article relates to: Government, Infrastructure, Land Use, News

      Written by Andrew Keatts

      I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

      14 comments
      Gerald Bosch
      Gerald Bosch subscriber

      "In 1999 in the United States, there were 41,717 traffic fatalities and 13,011 homicides, a ratio of 3.2 to 1. That converts to 114 traffic fatalities per day compared with only 36 homicides. Previous research has indicated that many traffic fatalities occur on two-lane roads in exurban and rural areas. In 1997, 28,653 out of 37,280 fatal crashes occurred on two-lane roads. Only 11 percent of traffic fatalities in rural areas occurred on interstate highways in 1997..." Jim Jones "suburb with good schools, lower crime, and a better atmosphere overall," is not refuted at all by Derek's study. If Judge Timothy Taylor's logic is like Derek's, Sandag does need to fight this, & will win.

      GRandolph
      GRandolph

      "In 1999 in the United States, there were 41,717 traffic fatalities and 13,011 homicides, a ratio of 3.2 to 1. That converts to 114 traffic fatalities per day compared with only 36 homicides. Previous research has indicated that many traffic fatalities occur on two-lane roads in exurban and rural areas. In 1997, 28,653 out of 37,280 fatal crashes occurred on two-lane roads. Only 11 percent of traffic fatalities in rural areas occurred on interstate highways in 1997..." Jim Jones "suburb with good schools, lower crime, and a better atmosphere overall," is not refuted at all by Derek's study. If Judge Timothy Taylor's logic is like Derek's, Sandag does need to fight this, & will win.

      Activist
      Activist

      Hooray for Judge Timothy Taylor (speaking of "common sense" thank goodness Jim Jones isn't a judge) Judge Taylor is batting 1000. With his rulings against the underfunded ill conceived Plaza de Panama Project, the risk to the city's taxpayers of the proposed TMD and SANDAG'S proposed addition of more air pollution and highway maintenance ahead of alternate transit..

      Richard Ross
      Richard Ross subscribermember

      Hooray for Judge Timothy Taylor (speaking of "common sense" thank goodness Jim Jones isn't a judge) Judge Taylor is batting 1000. With his rulings against the underfunded ill conceived Plaza de Panama Project, the risk to the city's taxpayers of the proposed TMD and SANDAG'S proposed addition of more air pollution and highway maintenance ahead of alternate transit..

      Pat Seaborg
      Pat Seaborg subscribermember

      Wow, Jim Jones, careful who you insult. I happen to live in the city core which you described as rotten and corrupt. This is my neighborhood, which I love, and I feel you have grossly mischaracterized. There are wonderful things about where I live. I can walk three blocks to the grocery store and six blocks to theatres and restaurants. Six blocks to the bus that takes me directly to my job. I see more of my neighbors walking down the street than I ever did when I lived in the 'burbs. I drive a lot less than I use to and love the exercise and also feel good about cutting down on the carbon footprint. But most of all, I love my neighborhood. I am curious to learn what you believe voicing your stereotypical ideas about urban living adds to the discussion.

      pcs
      pcs

      Wow, Jim Jones, careful who you insult. I happen to live in the city core which you described as rotten and corrupt. This is my neighborhood, which I love, and I feel you have grossly mischaracterized. There are wonderful things about where I live. I can walk three blocks to the grocery store and six blocks to theatres and restaurants. Six blocks to the bus that takes me directly to my job. I see more of my neighbors walking down the street than I ever did when I lived in the 'burbs. I drive a lot less than I use to and love the exercise and also feel good about cutting down on the carbon footprint. But most of all, I love my neighborhood. I am curious to learn what you believe voicing your stereotypical ideas about urban living adds to the discussion.

      Derek
      Derek

      That's part of the reason why politicians have to pay people exorbitant amounts to live in the suburbs (the mortgage interest deduction, subsidized roads of which the users pay only 65% of the cost, forgiveness of the environmental and health costs of burning gasoline, etc.), and why they have to force property owners through minimum parking requirements to set aside inordinate amounts of their land to cater to the automobile.

      Derek Hofmann
      Derek Hofmann subscribermember

      That's part of the reason why politicians have to pay people exorbitant amounts to live in the suburbs (the mortgage interest deduction, subsidized roads of which the users pay only 65% of the cost, forgiveness of the environmental and health costs of burning gasoline, etc.), and why they have to force property owners through minimum parking requirements to set aside inordinate amounts of their land to cater to the automobile.

      Jim Jones
      Jim Jones subscriber

      better to spend $2 million fighting this than $20 million on empty bus lanes and bike paths.

      Jim Jones
      Jim Jones

      better to spend $2 million fighting this than $20 million on empty bus lanes and bike paths.

      Don Wood
      Don Wood subscriber

      Given that the SANDAG board is comprised of local politicians who collect campaign contributions from sprawl real estate developers it's no big suprise that they came up with an initial plan that would have built more freeways to subsidize more sprawl growth. Only one problems with that proposal, it was patently illegal, despite the spin put out by SANDAG staff planners and PR types. The question now is will SANDAG waste more millions of TransNet tax funds appealing this horrible excuse for a plan, or will they start really listening to the citizens of San Diego and come up with a legal plan that meets everybody's needs instead of catering to sprawl developers with more and wider freeways?

      Don Wood
      Don Wood

      Given that the SANDAG board is comprised of local politicians who collect campaign contributions from sprawl real estate developers it's no big suprise that they came up with an initial plan that would have built more freeways to subsidize more sprawl growth. Only one problems with that proposal, it was patently illegal, despite the spin put out by SANDAG staff planners and PR types. The question now is will SANDAG waste more millions of TransNet tax funds appealing this horrible excuse for a plan, or will they start really listening to the citizens of San Diego and come up with a legal plan that meets everybody's needs instead of catering to sprawl developers with more and wider freeways?