A slew of groups fought a long battle against San Diego Gas & Electric’s proposed Sunrise Powerlink, a 117-mile line that now connects San Diegans with big solar and wind projects in Imperial County.

When the line went forward anyway, two San Diego County-based nonprofits used the state’s premier environmental law, known as CEQA, to fight massive solar projects that now sit on thousands of acres of Imperial Valley farmland.

But though Backcountry Against Dumps and the Protect Our Communities Foundation used an environmental law meant to allow project opponents to push for project changes that lessen the impact on the environment, the most apparent result of those lawsuits is millions of dollars in cash settlements.

VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt found that while the groups won about $17 million from solar developers whose projects still went forward, there weren’t obvious changes to the projects that appear to solely be a result of the groups’ half-dozen lawsuits.

In one case, a developer did request that Imperial County officials cancel their approval of a project that never returned to the Board of Supervisors but Halverstadt found that wasn’t an open-and-shut case, either.

Leaders of the two nonprofits are adamant their lawsuits resulted in reductions to the solar projects but say confidential settlements keep them from elaborating on details.

Sacramento Report: Signature-Gatherers May Love New Law

Signature-gatherers are a major part of our government now. If you’re an advocate for a major new law or proposal, you have to think how it might be scuttled by signature-gatherers. If you want to skirt environmental laws for your new development, you might think about hiring signature-gatherers.

If you want to kill a development, you might consider hiring signature-gatherers.

Their job might have just gotten a lot easier. Lawmakers passed the New Motor Voter Act that will automatically register people when they get a driver’s license. I talked with a signature-gatherer about the effect it will have on his business — which is often frustrating when they persuade a passerby to sign a petition but find out they are not registered voters.

This is in this week’s Sacramento Report, Sara Libby’s great review of everything Sacramento with San Diego’s interests in mind.

Big Podcast Week: Bry, Block and Sherman

This week’s podcast had a Sacramento theme. We had state Sen. Marty Block on the show to talk about what exactly happened in the meeting he had with Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins that has become so controversial.

Atkins said Block promised her he would not run for a second term. Block remembers it differently.

We also had San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman on. As head of the city’s Audit Committee, he helped us understand a blistering review of the city’s code enforcement division his team released this week.

• Also, we posted the conversation I had this week with Barbara Bry, who’s running for City Council. It’s part four of the series of long conversations I’ve had with candidates for the city attorney’s office and City Council.

Bry said the city needs to move on from the plan to revamp the Central Mesa of Balboa Park led by philanthropist Irwin Jacobs. She said it’s not going to happen and there are more important things to do. She also explained why she would have voted against spending money on the plan the mayor put together for a new Chargers stadium and against the giant transportation plan SANDAG approved last week.

(Full disclosure: Jacobs is a supporter of Voice of San Diego and Bry was the first editor in chief, which we talked about a bit.)

San Diego Hotel Room Surcharge Headed to Trial

So you’ve heard the one about the Convention Center. The city wanted to expand the Convention Center. San Diego leaders came up with a way to pay for it: They would raise the hotel-room tax without actually asking voters. Courts decided that was illegal — all taxes need to go before voters.

Now, the city is going to have to defend — at a trial — the other increase to the hotel-room levy that it didn’t send to voters, the 2 percent Tourism Marketing District surcharge. The money funds, among other initiatives meant to draw tourists to San Diego, the San Diego Tourism Authority.

Lyle Moran at the new incarnation of the Daily Transcript has the story (if you can get past the paywall).

Opera Chief Speaks … to New York Times

The New York Times appears to be the first outlet to get San Diego Opera’s new general director to talk beyond a statement about the financial problems that caused the company he just left to shut down. I’m going to take some liberty and summarize it all like this: Sounds like the Gotham Chamber Opera in New York, the organization David Bennett just left, was held together with duct tape. But it did some great shows. And it further sounds like Bennett was hired by San Diego to bring those same kind of shows over. The opera’s board here seems fine with any struggles he had managing things financially at his old place if he can put on some great acts.

Earlier this week, Kinsee Morlan spent some time with Bennett to understand what those might look like.

High Tech High in the New York Times

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote this week about a documentary that features San Diego’s  High Tech High. The school eschews the model of education that seems to be just about getting information into students’ heads for a model that teaches them how to think through problems and manage projects. The information, after all, can be acquired easily these days.

But Brooks has a warning. You have to know things, he writes: “The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy. You can’t overleap that, which is what High Tech High is in danger of doing.”

More News

• The San Ysidro teacher’s union is angry at the superintendent of the County Office of Education.

• San Diego’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.6 percent.

• Going out this weekend? Maybe keep in mind that Uber drivers, or some of them, in the state are pushing for a work stoppage.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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