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Appeal Court Upends Ruling On Vernal Pool Impacts

A federal appeals court vacated a court order based on the Endangered Species Act that banned some development in San Diego since 2006, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith announced today.

The 2006 court order imposed a moratorium on development impacting vernal pool species such as fairy shrimp and other endangered species, Goldsmith said.

According to Goldsmith, the order issued by a federal district court judge brought many projects already under way -- mostly in Otay Mesa -- to a halt.

The federal appellate decision allows development to proceed under a new process implemented by the city, Goldsmith said.

In the lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and 13 environmental groups, the plaintiffs contended that the city and federal government had violated the Endangered Species Act by not adequately protecting vernal pools species in San Diego from extinction due to private development.

The plaintiffs prevailed at the trial level and the city of San Diego appealed.

Recently, the city decided to accept federal grant money to prepare a habitat conservation plan for vernal pool species, Goldsmith said.

Once the habitat conservation plan is completed, the city intends to apply for a new federal permit that will authorize the city to approve development projects impacting vernal pools if there are stringent protections for the endangered vernal pool species, according to Goldsmith.

In the meantime, developers must apply for permission directly from federal wildlife agencies before development projects affecting vernal pool species may go forward, the city attorney said.

On the basis of the changes, the appellate court found that there was no longer a basis for an injunction and ordered the United States District Court to vacate the injunction, Goldsmith said.

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