As the public agency responsible for planning San Diego’s transportation future drafted plans to spend $200 billion on roads, bikeways and public transit over the next 40 years, the state kept watch.

The San Diego Association of Governments was the first regional agency to have to comply with a new state law requiring its transportation plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years. The governor’s office and state Attorney General Kamala Harris said the plan didn’t go far enough to get San Diego drivers off the road and into buses, trolleys or bike lanes.

On Monday, Harris sued, putting more heft behind a similar lawsuit that local and national environmental groups filed after Sandag approved its plan last year. The suits both show that neither the state nor environmentalists want to see Sandag’s approach become precedent in California — and are willing to fight.

“The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country,” Harris said in a news release. “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.”

We’ve previously summed up one of the chief criticisms of Sandag’s plan:

The state has said Sandag must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent by 2020 and 13 percent by 2035. …

Sandag’s plan exceeds the state’s immediate goal of 7 percent emissions reduction by 2020 and just meets the goal of a 13 percent reduction by 2035. But once the state’s goals go away, Sandag’s plan allows emissions reductions to decrease.

If you want to understand why Harris sued and what the transportation plan is all about, here are three easy steps.

1. Read our story detailing exactly how San Diego’s local transportation planning became a big statewide issue. Or just read these two key sentences: “As California looks to combat climate change, it’s looking to regional planning agencies like Sandag to be on the front lines of the fight against greenhouse gas emissions. Recent state laws have worked toward reductions by encouraging agencies to promote less sprawling development and transportation networks that include more transit options.”

2. Watch our San Diego Explained segment that looks at what the heck a $200 billion — billion! — transportation plan is all about. Just how does the region plan to spend all that money on roads, trolleys and buses? Watch this:

3. Check out this quick summary from our editor, Andrew Donohue, that pulls out five key things about the transportation plan. They’re a bit dated, but the top point is still vital to understand: Sandag’s plan makes major investments in public transit, but spends more on roads first.

I’ve asked Sandag to respond to the suit; I’ll update this post with their response when I get it.

Update: Jerome Stocks, the Encinitas mayor and Sandag chairman, called to say he was frustrated and disappointed that Harris would use taxpayer money to sue another taxpayer-funded public agency.

Asked about the specifics of the case, Stocks demurred.

“I’m certainly not going to present a legal brief in the media,” he said.

Rob Davis is a senior reporter at You can contact him directly at or 619.325.0529.

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Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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