Wednesday, May 7, 2007|An environmental group and the San Diego Association of Governments reached a settlement last week after the group threatened to bring a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit against Sandag. The settlement centered on Sandag’s failure to address greenhouse gas emissions in the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) 2030 and calls on the agency to conduct a comprehensive transit study.

The environmental group was led by Save Our Forest and Ranchlands, a watchdog group that attempts to protect San Diego backcountry from urban development. And the transit study that SANDAG agreed to would focus on San Diego County’s “urban core” —a 30-mile trolley ring that encompasses National City, Mission Valley, Clairemont Mesa and Kearny Mesa.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is an understanding that transit-oriented development on its own doesn’t create a transit-oriented community,” said Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group, which represented the environmental group. The community infrastructure — in terms of jobs, housing, transportation and parking all have to support transit in order to allow the transit alternatives to succeed, he said.

The Sandag settlement resembles a lawsuit between SOFAR and the city of San Diego involving its Downtown Community Plan update, which was settled last May. The city had failed to provide a transit-based alternative in the update, so they agreed to hire transit consultants to develop a transit plan that would address the “downtown/airport/freeway interface,” Gonzalez wrote in an email.

“Our hope is that these two studies, which will also address funding issues, can tie together to give us a platform from which to overcome the clearly car-centric planning focus of local government,” he wrote.

The settlement with Sandag had six major components:

  • Take part in the downtown studies
  • Explore transit options for the “urban core”
  • Study the impediments to public transit funding, to ensure that all funding opportunities are being maximized
  • Give a schedule for when the double track to the coastal rail corridor will be completed (there are several sections with a single track)
  • Evaluate the Smart Growth Incentives Program by prioritizing the areas with the greatest potential for transit
  • Work with school districts as part of the Safe Routes to School Strategy to create alternative modes to school and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from parents driving their kids to school

Gonzalez said that they were concerned not only with environmental issues, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting biological habitats, but also with increasing the number of people who use public transit systems.

“Building our way out of congestion is just a hoax,” Gonzalez said. “Anyone in construction who says building more freeway capacity in San Diego is going to eliminate congestion in the long-term is lying, yet that’s what we continue to do.”

The RTP, which was approved last November, is updated every four years, and each time it includes an environmental impact report. According to the settlement, the study must be completed by the next RTP update in 2011.

The settlement won’t affect progress on the RTP, said Rob Rundle, the principal regional planner for SANDAG. Funded primarily by TransNet (a program approved by voters that uses a half-cent sales tax to fund local transportation projects), the RTP will keep its projects around the county going.

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