San Diego regional-transportation-plan-dispute outcome sets precedent for California cities

Going back to an earlier time and as reported on Dec. 9, 2012 in “To meet prescribed emissions-reduction targets, San Diego must get transportation plan right,” I related: “San Diego … has been in the spotlight. It isn’t just that the southern California community was the very first in the state (and America) to have its RTP/SCS (Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategies) plan approved, but that it was later rejected because it violated state law.

“‘Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled [Dec. 3, 2012] that the San Diego Association of Governments 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,’ according to information brought to bear in a TransitSanDiego news release.

San Diego

“‘[San Diego Association of Governments’] 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy will increase climate-disrupting greenhouse gas emissions from development and transportation through mid-century, at precisely the time the best science — reflected in a landmark executive order signed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — shows dramatic reductions are necessary to avoid dangerous climate disruption.’

“Ultimately, ‘As Judge Taylor’s ruling indicates, SANDAG’s failure to address the severe impacts of its long-term transportation plan on global climate change subverted the overarching purpose of S.B. 375,’ according to information TransitSanDiego presented in the release.”

So, here it is almost six years later and now in the press release “Resolution of San Diego Transportation Lawsuit Sets California-wide Climate Precedent: Planners Across State Have to Curb Air Pollution, Greenhouse Emissions,” of Apr. 10, 2018, the Center for Biological Diversity reports: “A landmark settlement in a six-year legal battle over the San Diego Association of Governments’ transportation plan will push regional planners across California to limit air and climate pollution stemming from sprawl development and inadequate public transit.

“With the agreement of all parties, the San Diego County Superior Court has formally ordered that the agency, known as SANDAG, has to decertify the plan’s defective environmental analysis, which failed to adequately assess climate damage from sprawl. That sets a precedent for all future transportation planning.

“The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court, producing two precedent-setting court opinions that will guide SANDAG and other agencies in addressing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and the public-health impacts of regional transportation planning.”

What is most unfortunate in my view is that the protracted battle in the courts took as long as it did before the matter was resolved. The silver lining, on the other hand, is that it has been.

Providing still more detail, the Center for Biological Diversity further into the press statement expressed: “In its sweeping 2014 decision that was confirmed and republished in November 2017, the appeals court held that SANDAG failed to analyze how the transportation plan’s increase in pollution from cars and trucks could harm people in neighboring communities, and failed to take meaningful steps to reduce that pollution.”

“The court of appeal also faulted SANDAG for failing to consider any alternative to its plan that focused on reducing the number of miles that residents drive, even though SANDAG’s own Climate Action Strategy acknowledges the need to reduce driving. Finally, the court found SANDAG used incomplete and inaccurate data to assess the plan’s effects on agricultural land.”

There was much that happened in between and the Center for Biological Diversity in the release brings much of this to bear in the section with the subheading “Background.” And make no mistake, the message of the last sentence in the second to the last paragraph was quite clear: “The Supreme Court’s ruling confirms that agencies like SANDAG must stay current with climate science and must pay attention to California’s long-term goals for reducing emissions.”

Though the wheels of progress do sometimes turn slowly, progress in this regard was nonetheless made.

To learn more, see: “On beating back emissions, if not now, when?,” “Fast-track transit expansion plan could bode well for San Diego” and “Air-pollution stories sure to leave you breathless, well, speechless, actually.”

This post was last revised on May 16, 2020 @ 2:37 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel

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