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By Miriam Raftery, East County Magazine

October 7, 2021 (Proctor Valley) – A San Diego Superior Court judge today ordered the County of San Diego to vacate its 2019 approval of portions of the Otay Ranch Village 14 and Planning Areas 16/19 in Proctor Valley south of Jamul near Chula Vista, due to the danger of wildfires in an area that has already had many severe fires.

Judge Richard S. Whitney found that the County’s environmental impact report failed to assess the increase wildfire risk, nor offer any mitigation to reduce those increased risks if the controversial master-planned community were built. 

California Attorney General Rob Bonta intervened on behalf of the people of California to support a lawsuit filed by environmental groups challenging the project.  Bonta praised the decision, stating, “Today’s ruling by the Superior Court affirms a critical fact: Local governments have a responsibility to address wildfire risks associated with development projects at the front end. Doing so will save dollars—and lives—down the line.”

According to Bonta, 68 fires have been recorded within five miles of the project site, including the 2007 Harris Fire (photo, right), which scorched 90,440 acres including the project site.

The lawsuit states that Proctor Valley has burned at least 17 times in the past 100 years and notes, “Proctor Valley is designated as a very high-fire hazard severity zone by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the California Public Utilities Commission – the highest fire risk level in California.”

“The threat of fire is real,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob when she voted against the project in July 2019, along with Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. 

The lawsuits were filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee, California Chaparral Institute, Endangered Habitats League, California Native Plant Society, and Sierra Club, as ECM reported.

If built, the 1,284 acre project would include 1,119 single-family homes and a mixed-use site with 10,000 square feet of commercial space, as well as a fire station, parks, trails and more. 

Despite fire concerns raised by many residents who voiced alarm over the prospect of thousands more people trying to evacuate along State Route 94, which is already often clogged due to traffic from a new border crossing, casino and high school, Supervisors inexplicably eliminated a planned second exit road from the proposed development. So State Route 94 would be the only way out during a major wildfire – a crisis waiting to happen.

Judge Whitney’s decision has made national news, reported by Associated Press and major media outlets across the U.S. According to the Washington Post, blocking of the Otay Ranch Village project, along with a similar recent challenge in Northern California, are the first known times in the nation where a state has intervened to argue that its interests in preventing wildfires overrides a county’s interest in building more housing.

Advocates for the project had argued that it was needed to meet the housing shortage statewide and regionally. But Bonta successfully argued that the need to protect Californians from wildfires outweighs even the need for more housing.

“California is on track for yet another record-breaking, climate-fueled wildfire season,’ Attorney General Bonta stated after today’s court victory.  “As these mega-disasters become the norm, it is more critical than ever that we build responsibly. We can’t keep making the same mistakes.  The land use decisions we make  now will have consequences for years and decades to come.”

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