SANDAG Lawsuit Gets Sandbagged

Enviros Oppose Transportation Plans that Expand Highway Infrastructure

The California Construction Trucking Association is one of many to denounce the CEQA lawsuit challenging the San Diego Association of Government’s (SANDAG) regional transportation plan (RTP) several years ago. Thanks to the efforts of many, it was possible to stave off additional challenges of regional transportation plans, but of course the challenge against SANDAG’s plan is still ongoing. However, there is some bad news about the appeal on this case.

As you may recall, SANDAG was the first region in the state to adopt a regional planning blueprint under the guidelines of SB 375. SANDAG’s Sustainable Communities Strategy includes a regional transportation plan, called the 2050 RTP, that meets new emission reduction standards required by state law (SB 375 and AB 32). SANDAG’s 2050 RTP was adopted on a 17-1 vote after two years of extensive collaboration. SANDAG’s plan Exceeds the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target for 2020 by reducing emissions by 14% (the target is 7%) and meets the 2035 target of 13%. It also preserves more than half of the region’s land as open space and invests heavily in mass transit.

Despite these benefits, a few environmental groups and the Attorney General sued under CEQA to invalidate SANDAGs plan. A superior court upheld this challenge and SANDAG appealed to the Appellate Courts. Just recently, the court of appeal ruled in a sharply divided 2-1 decision, against SANDAG. The heart of the ruling is that SANDAG’s environmental impact report is invalid due to its failure to consider Governor Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order on greenhouse gases. Among other things, that Executive Order sets a goal of (1) reducing California GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; and (2) 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Importantly, the Legislature considered the Executive Order and adopted in the 2020 goal in AB 32. But the Legislature did NOT adopt the 2050 standard. Despite the fact that the 2050 goal is NOT statute but only Executive Order, the Appeals court held that SANDAGs failure to incorporate ALL of the Executive Order’s provisions was fatal.
SANDAG is now considering whether or not to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

This case is certainly disappointing and is another illustration of CEQA being used to undermine environmentally responsible local planning.