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Calif. AG Joins Lawsuit Challenging San Diego Transportation Plan

Enviros Say SANDAG Plan Bad For Environment, Health

The California Attorney General and the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit agains...

Photo by Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

Above: The California Attorney General and the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit against the regional transportation plan approved by the San Diego Association of Governments.


Charles Stoll, Director, Land Use and Transportation Planning, SANDAG

Jack Shu, director, Cleveland National Forest Foundation

The California Attorney General and the Sierra Club have joined a lawsuit against a regional transportation plan approved by the San Diego Association of Governments.

The SANDAG plan lays out priorities for building roads and improving mass transit through the year 2050.

Opponents have criticized the plan for leaning too far toward road construction and not enough on public transportation or the environment. They contend most of the transit improvements are delayed for several decades.

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation and Center for Biological Diversity sued in November 2011 to stop the plan.

"(SANDAG) could have set an example of how to plan for future transportation needs without putting public health and the environment at risk, but didn't," said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. "SANDAG's plan will lead to more sprawl and traffic."


2050 Regional Transportation Plan

2050 Regional Transportation Plan

Red lines on the map indicate proposed trolley lines in SANDAG's 2050 Regional Transportation Plan. They include a line that would connect downtown San Diego to San Diego State, running along El Cajon Blvd.

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Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris joined the on-going lawsuits.

In a news release, Harris said she filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit seeking to require the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Regional Transportation Plan to take a harder look at the region's long-term transportation development options.

The lawsuit contends that the Environmental Impact Report prepared for the plan does not adequately address air pollution and climate concerns and prioritizes expanding freeways while delaying public transit projects.

"The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country," said Attorney General Harris. "Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air."

Attorney General Harris will file in San Diego Superior Court papers seeking to intervene in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action filed by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity. In September 2011, she sent a letter to SANDAG stating that the draft EIR on the Regional Transit Plan was inadequate under CEQA. The final EIR was not substantially different.

The AG's motion contends that the EIR on the transit plan did not adequately analyze the public health impacts of the increased air pollution. The San Diego region already has a very high cancer risk from particulate matter emitted by diesel engines and vehicles and there is no analysis as to whether this risk will increase.

In addition, Harris said the EIR did not analyze the impact of air pollution on communities in San Diego that are already burdened by significant air pollution.

While greenhouse gases initially decrease in the plan, the EIR shows that after 2020, driving miles will increase and overall greenhouse gas emissions from driving will continue to increase at least until 2050.

The transit plan also prioritizes expanding or extending freeways and highways in its early years, largely deferring investment in public transit projects, such as transit, bicycle and foot paths, when funds may not be available.

"Having the Attorney General and the Sierra Club join our lawsuit confirms our position," said Jack Shu with the Cleveland National Forest Foundation. "They see how wrong the SANDAG plan is and how much it will hurt the environment without solving transportation needs for the region."

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation and other environmental groups said the plan will increase pollution and worsen global climate change.

"We don't want to be stuck on freeways to go just a short distance," said Shu. "We need modern transit systems rather than more freeways. If we keep thinking like we have for the past 30 or 40 years, we won't join other countries and even cities in the United States that have developed light rail systems."

Shu pointed to Portland, Oregon as one city which has not expanded its freeway system for more than 25 years.

"They have the option to take transit to work and go places throughout Portland without having to drive," said Shu.

SANDAG officials have denied the claims of the lawsuit.

In response to the lawsuit, SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos said the plan presents a balanced approach, gives travelers more choices and meets environmental goals. The organization, made up of the region's cities, county government and other agencies, approved its $200 billion plan in October 2011.

Shu with the Cleveland National Forest Foundation said the $200 billion could go a long way toward creating a mass transit system serving the needs of San Diego County.

It is required to update its vision for regional transportation development every four years. An ex-parte conference in the case is scheduled for Wednesday before Judge Timothy Taylor at the San Diego Hall of Justice.

City News Service contributed to the information in this report.

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