LAWSUITS FILED CHALLENGE COUNTY’S APPROVAL OF MASSIVE HOUSING PROJECT IN PROCTOR VALLEY ON FIRE DANGER, ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS

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By Miriam Raftery

July 27, 2019 (Proctor Valley) – Last week, San Diego County Supervisors approved the controversial Otay Ranch Village 14 master-planned community in Proctor Valley near Jamul, which passe by 3-2 vote. 

Now environmental groups have filed lawsuits, hoping a judge will cast the deciding vote to block the project, based on fire danger to residents and threats to wildlife.  A press release issued by the plaintiffs, Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Habitat League, Sierra Club, California Chaparral Institute, Preserve Wild Santee, and California Native Plant Society, calls the project “a sprawl development that will pave over hundreds of acres of habitat for golden eagles and other imperiled wildlife and build new homes in one of California’s most dangerously fire-prone areas.”

Supervisor Dianne Jacob and Nathan Fletcher voted against the controversial project, which would build approximately 1,100 new homes and 10,000 square feet of commercial space in the remote unincorporated area. 

Jacob noted, “The threat of fire is real,” as ECM reported.  Bowing to traffic concerns raised by existing area residents, Supervisors amended the proposal to eliminate access to State Route 94, leaving the thousands of residents who would live in the new homes with only one exit route on a two-lane extension of Proctor Valley Road slated to be completed.

Those in favor of the project touted the need to address the region’s housing crisis, though with prices expected to start in the half million dollar range, the project would do nothing to alleviate the need for affordable housing.

The lawsuit states that “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 Proctor Valley area has burned at least 17 times in the last 100 years and the site has burned twice in the last 15 years, including during the Harris Fire in 2007. Which remains at “serious risk for fast-moving, wind-driven fires,” the suit contends. “According to fire experts, a fire ignited on the Project site under Santa Ana winds would likely spread southwest towards population centers at a rate of several miles per hour.”  

That puts nearby Chula Vista at risk with homes less than a mile and a half away.  Steep terrain surrounding the Project site, vegetated by chaparral and coastal scrub, would make effective fire suppression difficult and thousands of people trying to evacuate on a single two-lane road could result in some becoming trapped en route, as occurred during the devastating Paradise Fire where more than 80 people died.

“History has shown that during a wind-drive wildfire, developments like this one in a known fire corridor can and have been destroyed by embers flying a mile or more ahead of the flame front,” says Richard Halsey with the California Chaparral Institute. “The claim that a development like this is fire safe ignores everything we have learned during the destructive 2017 and 2018 firestorms.”

Sierra Club San Diego’s chair, Peter Andersen, says, “Otay Ranch Village 14 clearly violates the recent court decision that requires in-county mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. “Furthermore, it is a fire trap that endangers all East County residents, contributes to severe traffic jams and destroys multiple species’ habitat.”

The suit contends that the development would eliminate crucial habitat for the endangered Quino Checkerspot Butterfly as well as San Diego fairy shrimp, California gnatcatcher, and some of the county’s last golden eagles which nest nearby and forage at the site.  Peter Broderick, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, says it would “wreak havoc on golden eagles and other wildlife.”

Three lawsuits were filed in San Diego County Superior Court by the Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee, the California Chaparral Institute, Endangered Habitats League, California Native Plant Society and Sierra Club in San Diego County Superior Court. The lawsuits note that the project is inconsistent with San Diego County’s General Plan and that its environmental impact report repeatedly violated the California Environmental Quality Act.

The Endangered Habitats League and California Native Plant Society are represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP. The Sierra Club is represented by Chatten-Brown, Carstens and Minteer. The Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee and the California Chaparral Institute are represented by the Center for Biological Diversity.

View lawsuit filed by Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee and California Chaparral Institute: 

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/urban/pdfs/Otay-Village-2019-07-25-Petition-for-Writ-of-Mandate.pdf 

View press release from environmental groups: 

 https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/san-diego-lawsuits-challenge-sprawl-development-in-high-risk-fire-zone-2019-07-25/ 

View project documents at San Diego County Planning and Land Use Department:

https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/pds/ceqa/OtayRanchVillage14.html 

View County press release on project approval:

https://www.countynewscenter.com/board-of-supervisors-approve-1119-master-planned-community-at-otay-ranch/ 

View East County Magazine article on hearing at which project was approved: https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/county-approves-controversial-master-planned-community-otay-ranch 

View Times of San Diego article on hearing for project approval: https://timesofsandiego.com/politics/2019/06/26/county-approves-1100-home-project-in-rural-otay-ranch-despite-wildfire-risk/