Even California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state’s top enforcer, said the San Diego Association of Governments hadn’t done enough to ensure its $200 billion transportation plan didn’t harm the environment.

But it was environmental groups that sued, saying the plan was illegal.

The transportation plan sets priorities and a timeline for transit projects over several decades. It outlines highway expansions, new trolley, bus and bicycle routes and new roads.

Much of the criticism lobbed at Sandag’s plan by state officials and local advocates has been aimed at getting the agency to make transit a bigger priority. San Diego’s plan has drawn plenty of statewide attention. The county is the first in California to draft one since a new state law required agencies like Sandag to show how they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years.

Environmentalists say Sandag didn’t go far enough to reduce those emissions. But the lawsuit, filed Monday, doesn’t deal with that directly. It argues Sandag’s process for adopting its plan was flawed and asks a judge to throw the plan out.

The agency is required to evaluate all of the plan’s environmental impacts — not just greenhouse gases. The groups that sued, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Cleveland National Forest Foundation, claim Sandag violated state environmental rules in multiple ways. They say the agency:

• Did not adequately analyze how the plan would impact pollution and public health, climate change and the county’s rural land, and didn’t consider enough ways to prevent those impacts.

• Rejected alternatives that could have allowed the agency to meet its transportation goals while doing more to protect the environment.

• Used inaccurate or misleading data that underestimated how much agricultural land would be lost to development.

• Amended the plan without giving the public a chance to weigh in.

The agency’s plan would spend more than half of the $200 billion on transit projects. But it would prioritize highway expansions in the early years, a strategy transit advocates believe would undercut later spending on transit.

Transit advocates, environmentalists, the attorney general and planners for Gov. Jerry Brown criticized Sandag’s plan for not going far enough to ensure its transportation decisions wouldn’t harm the environment in the long term. They urged the agency to prioritize transit over highways.

The agency’s own analysis showed, for example, that its cocktail of projects would decrease greenhouse gas emissions through 2020, as required by state law, but would then allow them to start increasing again.

Environmental and transit advocates proposed various transit-heavier alternatives that they believed would improve transportation in the region while reducing the plan’s impacts on the environment.

Sandag officials would not address specifics about the lawsuit, but defended the transportation plan and the agency’s process in adopting it.

“We are confident that they represent a balanced approach that serves the entire region, creating a multimodal transportation system that gives travelers more choices, meets our environmental goals, and responsibly invests taxpayer funds,” Gary Gallegos, the agency’s director, said in a statement.

To learn more about the transportation plan, watch our San Diego Explained on it:

Correction: This story originally reported that the lawsuit against Sandag was filed Friday, Nov. 25. It was filed Monday, Nov. 28. We regret the error.

Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?

Contact him directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528.

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Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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