As expected, the regional planning agency SANDAG will appeal to the state Supreme Court a ruling that says its long-term transportation plan doesn’t meet state requirements to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The vote wasn’t close: 20 of SANDAG’s directors voted for the appeal and just one, Oceanside City Councilman Chuck Lowery, voted against it. (San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria and Councilwoman Myrtle Cole both voted to appeal.)

SANDAG said the appeal is necessary to clarify state law. If the Supreme Court heard the case, it would set precedent for planning agencies across the state.

In emails with constituents asking her to vote against the appeal, though, SANDAG board member Kristine Alessio, who’s also a La Mesa councilwoman, got right to the point: SANDAG isn’t rewriting its transportation plan anytime soon.

In an interview, Alessio said the most important aspect of the case is more big-picture than any particulars of SANDAG’s plan – the point of the appeal is to knock down the precedent that an executive order can trump laws passed by the Legislature.

“If this appellate court ruling stands, a governor could say we don’t need (environmental review) at all,” she said.

A 2005 executive order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger established greenhouse gas reduction targets for the state. It said that by 2020, the state should return to its 1990 emission levels, and reach 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

A year later, the Legislature passed AB 32, which tasked a state agency with determining that 1990 leveland the reductions the state needed to make by 2020. It didn’t mention 2050.

The appellate court ruling argues AB 32 was essentially an extension of the executive order, and that the Legislature effectively endorsed its long-term goals as state policy.

That is, the court doesn’t see the executive action as trumping legislation; it says the Legislature was intentionally building on the executive order.

Nonetheless, Alessio, a lawyer, said she viewed the appeal as a way to ensure future executive actions can’t nullify legislation.

“Following appellate court logic, that could be the case. I’m sorry, I’m not going to take that,” she said. “In essence, you could gut CEQA with an executive order.”

In emails to environmental and public transportation advocates who asked her to vote against an appeal, Alessio said her decision would be driven by “application of fact to law and not the desires of special interests” and that the overwhelming majority of constituents she’s spoken to wanted her to go forward with the appeal:

Two people out of 58,000 of my constituents in La Mesa have urged me to vote to not appeal the decision. That’s not exactly overwhelming public support. Most of my constituents are irritated at CNFF for filing the suit in the first place. My constituents want me to close some of our trolley stations. They want freeway offramps completed, that’s what they want from SANDAG and MTS. It’s interesting to see what matters to people, transit wise, based on where they live and what their needs are. We have a large geographic area and each part has different transportation needs.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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