Judge Rules Transportation Plan in San Diego Violates State Enviro. Laws

A superior court judge rules the modeling that shows that SANDAG's freeway friendly long-term plan violates state law. Image: San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers

When it was passed last March, the long-term transportation plan was hailed as “visionary” for its investment in transit, bicycling and pedestrian projects. The plan was the first regional plan passed under S.B. 375, a landmark piece of legislation that mandated that transportation plans be tied to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And San Diego leadership was proud.

A few local voices fought back, arguing that the green transportation investments were all in the latter years of the thirty year plan. Proposed investments in new toll lanes would not bring the air quality benefits planners promised. They filed suit. The established powers laughed. Then, the State Attorney General joined the suit. All of a sudden, the lawsuit was front page news.

Today, Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled today that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) violated state law by failing to fully account for, and take steps to reduce, climate pollution in its environmental review of the region’s long-term transportation plan in the environmental review of the Long Term Plan. The ruling is a major rebuke to regional planners in the San Diego region and a warning shot to other regional planning organizations that just passing a plan and calling it green is no longer enough.

“The court is setting an important example here for regional planning agencies throughout California,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “We cannot wait another 40 years to adopt sensible transportation and land-use policies. Thanks to California laws requiring public agencies to be open about their plans, we were able to hold SANDAG accountable for its faulty planning practices.”

SANDAG must now conduct new environmental review for its 2050 plan to ensure it adequately addresses the risk of climate change. The plaintiffs believe it is likely that the more rigorous environmental review will lead to a revised plan that does a better job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as required by state law.

“Climate change is here, it’s dangerous, and we can’t keep ignoring the warning signs,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We also need our elected leaders to be honest with us about choices that affect our future. This ruling means that SANDAG can no longer just hide the ball and pass the buck when it comes to climate pollution.”

Locally, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) also passed a new regional transportation to guide funding decisions over the coming decades. Due in large part to the passage of Measure R by L.A. County voters in 2008, the plan was more transit friendly than any past plan. However, while the plan dramatically increased funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, it fell far short of the over estimated $40 billion need for the region as calculated by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

To date, there is no lawsuit filed against the SCAG transportation plan.