Attorney General Becerra Seeks to Intervene in Litigation Over Wildfire Risk of San Diego Development Projects
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed motions to intervene in lawsuits challenging the County of San Diego’s approval and certification of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) for the proposed Otay Ranch Resort Village 13 and Otay Ranch Village 14 and Planning Areas 16/19 Project (collectively, Otay Ranch) projects. The projects, located in a very high fire hazard severity zone, are part of a 23,000-acre residential development, the largest in San Diego County’s history. In today’s filings, Attorney General Becerra argues that the EIRs do not adequately analyze the impacts of increased wildfire risk created by bringing thousands of new people and significant development to an undeveloped area – and that the projects fail to mitigate or avoid such impacts in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.
“On the heels of another dry winter, Californians are looking toward wildfire season with a familiar pit of dread in their stomachs,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Devastating wildfires have become the norm in recent years, with dozens of deaths and whole towns forced to evacuate. That’s why local governments must address the wildfire risks associated with new developments at the front end. It is imperative for public safety – and required by the law. Today’s action aims to ensure that the County of San Diego does all it can to mitigate the risks of the Otay Ranch projects before they are built.”
The proposed Otay Ranch projects lie at the interface of existing development and undisturbed wildland in a very high fire hazard severity zone in southwestern San Diego County. The projects would expand the boundary of existing urban development into thousands of acres of currently vacant open space. The Otay Ranch Village 13 project would develop 692.5 acres and would feature 1,881 single-family units; a mixed-use site with 57 multifamily units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space; a resort site with 200 guest rooms and up to 20,000 square feet of commercial office use; parks and managed open space; an elementary school site; and a public safety site for a fire station. The neighboring Otay Ranch Village 14 project, at 1,284 acres, would construct 1,119 single-family residences and a mixed-use site with 10,000 square feet of commercial space, along with parks and a community fire station. Of the combined 3,000 residences, none have been set aside for affordable housing.
The Otay Ranch project sites have burned repeatedly. The Otay Ranch Village 13 project site has experienced numerous fires, including the October 2003 Mine/Otay Fire, which burned the entire Project area and nearly 40,000 acres overall. Sixty-eight fires have been recorded within 5 miles of the Otay Ranch Village 14 project site, 17 of which exceeded 50 acres. These include the 2007 Harris Fire, which burned 90,440 acres, including the majority of both Otay Ranch project sites. Nevertheless, the County of San Diego's EIRs repeatedly underplay the severity of the wildfire risk, concluding despite all scientific evidence to the contrary that the introduction of structures and people will not increase wildfire risks.
In today’s filings, Attorney General Becerra argues that the EIRs fail to adequately:
- Analyze the extent to which the Otay Ranch projects could increase wildfire risk;
- Assess the cumulative wildfire impacts of the 23,000-acre Otay Ranch residential development; and
- Analyze and address the Otay Ranch projects’ individual and cumulative greenhouse gas impacts.
The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, requires that state and local agencies disclose and evaluate the significant environmental impacts of locating development in areas susceptible to hazardous conditions such as wildfire and adopt all feasible mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate those impacts. The Attorney General has a special role in overseeing and enforcing CEQA. The Attorney General frequently files public comment letters alerting local agencies to potential violations of CEQA, files and intervenes in lawsuits, enters settlements, and submits “friend of the court” briefs in significant appellate cases. Most recently, Attorney General Becerra intervened in a lawsuit challenging Lake County’s failure to adequately analyze and mitigate the increased wildfire risk associated with the proposed Guenoc Valley Mixed Use Planned Development project. Attorney General Becerra has also filed comment letters on the wildfire risks associated with projects in Lake, Monterey, and San Diego counties.
More information and previous CEQA comment letters can be found here: https://oag.ca.gov/environment/ceqa/letters.