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Backcountry Developments in Limbo

The site of the Newland Sierra development near San Marcos. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Several major new housing developments are now in limbo because a judge found the County Board of Supervisors has been relying on a legally dubious plan to ensure new developments don’t contribute to global warming.

Over the past nine years, the County Board of Supervisors has repeatedly signed off on “climate action plans” that courts have found weak and inadequate. Under state law, the county is supposed to be working to curb the release of greenhouse gases. In its latest plan, though, the county allows developers to pollute more, if they plan to offset that pollution by planting trees or otherwise reducing pollution in other areas [1].

San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Taylor [2] issued an order, released Monday [3], that said the county’s current plan appeared so weak that the Board of Supervisors is temporarily forbidden from approving new backcountry developments. The judge’s ruling is only in effect until more arguments can be heard in the case, though the next major hearing isn’t until December.

There’s now dispute over what projects the ruling covers. The biggest project pending before the board is Newland Sierra, a 2,100-unit development proposed near San Marcos. The head of the project, Rita Brandin, said the ruling doesn’t apply to Newland because, even though her project uses an offset plan similar to the county’s, it’s not the same.

Josh Chatten-Brown, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, which has been fighting the county since 2012, said the county shouldn’t play “word games” and risks being held in contempt of court if it approves Newland.

During a Friday hearing, Taylor appeared to grow impatient [4] with attorneys for the county who made an unusual legal maneuver in attempt to change his mind before he issued the ruling.