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This post originally appeared in the Nov. 13 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.
The state attorney general’s office cautioned San Diego County against approving the proposed Otay Village 13, a roughly 1,900-acre mixed-use development proposed east of Chula Vista.
The project hasn’t adequately addressed the increased wildfire risk that the development in that area will cause in its draft final environmental impact report, wrote Deputy Attorney General Kimberly Gosling in a comment letter.
“As we come out the other side of yet another destructive wildfire season, it has never been more important for local governments to carefully review and consider the risks associated with approving new developments in fire-prone areas,” said Attorney General Becerra in a statement about the office’s comments about the development. “We urge the County of San Diego to fully evaluate – and work to mitigate – the wildfire risks posed by the Otay Ranch project before moving any further in the approval process.”
Becerra’s office had previously commented about the wildfire risk in a letter about the project’s draft environmental impact report in December 2019.
The county’s response to the letter, Gosling wrote, “incorrectly denies that an increased risk exists. According to the County, ‘there is no evidence that higher density residential development in San Diego County — including development in the wildland-urban interface — has increased fire-ignition frequency.’”
The wildland-urban interface is an invisible line where human development meets flammable vegetation, and it’s where the most destruction from wildfires occurs.
Otay Village 13 is one of several projects proposed in wildfire risk zones this throughout the county that have been seeking special permission to build because they don’t fit the requirements laid out in the county’s general plan.
In the meantime, some of the worst wildfires in California history have happened, including 2018’s Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed 11,000 homes in Paradise. The Lilac Fire in San Diego in 2017 destroyed more than 180 structures, roughly half of which were homes. Nearly 7,500 residents had to be evacuated.
In June, the County Board of Supervisors rejected Lilac Hills Ranch, another large development project in northeast San Diego County, citing wildfire concerns.
The attorney general’s office advised the county to make several changes to the final environmental impact report that reflect the increased fire risk and propose ways to mitigate that risk, such as providing a means of safe evacuation in the case of a fire.
The report in its current form, Gosling writes, “neither acknowledges that added risk nor assures that the community can be evacuated safely. It also fails to address the project’s impact on the evacuation of nearby communities that use the same roads, and the impact on firefighters and emergency responders who must access the site and prevent the spread of a wildfire while the project and neighboring areas are evacuating.”