The Newland Sierra property / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Six years ago, the Sierra Club said San Diego County’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was too weak, and so the environmental group took the county to court.

Suddenly that case, which began on July 20, 2012, has slammed headlong into several of the largest new housing developments planned for the region, including the 2,100-unit Newland Sierra, 1,700-unit Lilac Hills Ranch and 800-unit Warner Ranch projects.

The environmental group has long argued the county doesn’t have a legitimate state-mandated “climate action plan” and, as a result, the county wasn’t doing as much as state law requires to curb global warming.

Over the years, courts have agreed with the Sierra Club, but the county has yet to adopt a climate action plan that the group finds suitable. That frustration led the Sierra Club to file another lawsuit earlier this year, which got bundled into the original case.

Last week, San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Taylor agreed. He said the Board of Supervisors is temporarily forbidden from approving certain types of new development if they rely on potentially flawed parts of the climate action plan. That’s because those projects could contribute to an increased amount of greenhouse gases, even though the point of the plan was to reduce the amount of those gases.

The Board of Supervisors is set to vote Wednesday on whether to allow Newland. It’s also set to take up the other two big projects in coming months.

But Taylor’s ruling last week threw the projects into limbo.

Both the county and Newland seem to think the ruling doesn’t apply to Newland, even though Newland uses an “offset” scheme similar to the one the county has: The county allows developers to pollute more if they plan to offset that pollution by planting trees or otherwise reducing pollution in other areas outside of the county.

Now there’s a flurry of new legal filings by Newland’s opponents, including the nearby Golden Door resort, which is trying to get the judge to hold the county in contempt of court if it presses ahead. A hearing could happen as soon as Tuesday — a day before the vote on the Newland project. Newland, which is being proposed on the site of another project that the county rejected in 2009, has been seeking county approval for several years.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians has likewise sent a letter to the county asking supervisors to delay action on Warner Ranch until the case is resolved, which could take months or even years. The supervisors plan to consider Warner Ranch and Lilac Hills in December during what is essentially a lame duck session – after the election, when two new supervisors will be elected, but before those new supervisors are sworn in.

If the county goes ahead and approves Newland, more litigation and maneuvering will ensue, including a ballot measure that could at least delay the project further.

The Deal With the River Park

Two plans to redevelop the Mission Valley stadium site come with feel-good plans to build a 60-acre river park. I looked at these competing proposals by SoccerCity and SDSU West. The projects are similar, though SDSU doesn’t want to put in an artificial pond, which is something SoccerCity is open to. They also share critics, who say neither project is guaranteed to happen.

New Desalination Plant on Hold

Plans to build a new plant at Camp Pendleton to make ocean water drinkable are on hold, in part due to falling demand for water, thanks to state-urged conservation efforts. The San Diego County Water Authority had spent $5.4 million on the now-abandoned plan, though it says technical studies it’s already done could be used in the future.

A staff memo from the agency notes that long-term demand for water is projected to fall at the same time some local water departments, like the city of San Diego’s, have plans to increase water supply by recycling wastewater.

In Other News

  • The long-running tension between Los Angeles and farmers in the Owens Valley is flaring up again. The city took water from the farmers a century ago and now the farmers say the city is planning to dry them up even more, further stifling economic growth on the eastern side of the Sierra range.  (Los Angeles Times)
  • The California Public Utilities Commission was  set to decide this week what to do about the “exit fees” that customers pay if they abandon San Diego Gas & Electric for government-run “community choice” agencies. The decision, however, is now delayed until October. If the exit fees are too high, the community choice movement in California could suffer; if they are too low, existing power companies warn of dire financial consequences for them and their ratepayers.
  • San Diego gets roughly a fifth of its water from the rivers of Northern California. Two disturbing stories show how water up there can be polluted – by weed control chemicals and human sewage. (Sacramento Bee, The Record)

Ry Rivard

Ry Rivard was formerly a reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about water and power.

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