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: ##http://www.sandiegopersonalinjurylawyersblog.com/2011/05/injured-in-a-san-diego-automob.html##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.

  • Anonymous

    Who needs more freeway lanes? Just convert existing lanes to express lanes and call it done. It will decrease carbon emissions, decrease air pollution, and permanently eliminate traffic congestion, all at a far lower cost to taxpayers than widening the freeway.

    But what I wonder is, will the ruling prevent SANDAG from funding rail and bicycle projects?

  • Anonymous

    Typical environmental lawsuit… they have half a plan. They see SANDAG proposing to build more highway lanes (as HOT lanes, but whatever, I know that in many people’s eyes a highway is a highway). They see projections of more sprawl. And they say, no, we don’t want more highway lanes and more sprawl – we want more transit and denser development.

    And then they file a lawsuit that addresses everything on the transportation side and nothing on the land-use side. The environmental lobby will actively fight any freeway expansion. But where is the campaign against Prop 13, which generates sprawl by encouraging cities to permit new developments and discouraging property owners from redevelopment? Where is the campaign promoting the idea that mixed-use redevelopment should be allowed by entitlement, and not subject to endless zoning overlay districts, conditional-use permits, hearings and permits, NIMBY lawsuits, etc?

    Nowhere. And that’s why I’m getting increasingly suspicious that a large part of the environmental lobby is just a front for NIMBYs. Who did the Sierra Club endorse for Santa Monica Planning Commission? The NIMBY candidates that sent out campaign mailers trashing recent mixed-use projects and opposing new projects all over the city. With decent transit connections already, the Expo Line arriving soon, and Westside Subway on the horizon, and no plans to widen the 10, Santa Monica is an ideal location for denser development. But I don’t see any swell of support behind it.

  • I wonder if this will be more broadly applicable?

     

    The San Diego
    Ct found that the SANDAG EIR “is impermissibly dismissive of Executive
    OrderS-03-05. SANDAG argues that the Executive Order does not constitute a
    ‘plan’ for GHG reduction, and no state plan has been adopted to achieve the 2050
    goal. [ROA 62 at 34] The EIR therefore does not find the RTP/SCS’s failure to
    meet the Executive Order’s goals to be a significant impact. This position fails
    to recognize that Executive Order S-3-05 is an official policy of the State of California, established by
    a gubernatorial order in 2005, and not withdrawn or modified by a subsequent
    (and predecessor) governor. Quite obviously it was designed to address an environmental
    objective that is highly relevantunder CEQA (climate stabilization). See AR
    17622 (Excerpt Tab 216). SANDAG thus
    cannot simply ignore it. [emphasis added] This is particularly true in a
    setting in which hundreds of thousands of people in the communities served by
    SANDAG live in low-lying areas near the coast, and are thus susceptible to
    rising sea levels associated with global climate change.”

    Guess how SCAG addressed the executive order that requires 80% reductions by
    2050? They “chose not to use the 2050 Executive Order emissions reduction
    target as a threshold of significance”… sounds like they ignored it…

     

    There may be factual differences that mean that SCAG’s plan
    is ok under this standard (for example, SCAG’s plan only goes to 2035), but I
    hope that SCAG’s redrafts their plan to be more aggressive in greenhouse gas
    reductions. Their models show a 16% reduction by 2035, which is way too little
    to get to 80% by 2050.

  • MarkB

    Federal law doesn’t allow tolling of existing roadways funded by federal dollars.

  • Anonymous

    Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood says it’s allowed as long as the revenue stays in the same road.

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