OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the permanent conservation of nearly 1,300 acres of land comprising the Otay Ranch Village 14 and Planning Areas 16/19 (collectively, Otay Village 14) project. Pursuant to a settlement agreement among the Attorney General, environmental groups (petitioners), and the developer of the Otay Village 14 project resolving litigation challenging the project, California acquired the property for $60 million. The Nature Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Wildlife Conservation Board and United States Fish and Wildlife Service collaborated to complete the acquisition. A portion of the funding for the property purchase came from the Attorney General’s settlement agreement over the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will own and manage the property, which will be joined with the nearby San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. The agreement also includes payment of more than two million in attorney fees to the California Department of Justice and the petitioners that jointly litigated the County of San Diego’s approval of the Otay Village 14 project.
“Wildfires across California have intensified over the years, leading to lives lost and communities devastated,” said Attorney General Bonta. “That’s why now more than ever, it is critical for local governments to carefully review and consider the risks associated with approving new developments in outlying, fire-prone areas. This victory does just that, and conserves public land that will support critical habitats and expand the existing wildlife refuge for generations to come.”
The Otay Village 14 project would have expanded the boundary of existing development into thousands of acres of undisturbed wildland in southwestern San Diego County. Numerous sites within the larger Otay Ranch development have burned repeatedly. Sixty-eight fires have been recorded within five miles of the project site, including the 2007 Harris Fire, which burned 90,440 acres. In its Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the County acknowledged that this area is vulnerable to wildfire ignition and spread during extreme fire weather. At 1,284 acres, the project would have included 1,119 exclusively 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 1,119 residences, none were set aside for affordable housing.
In 2019, San Diego County approved the proposed Otay Village 14 project, concluding, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, that the introduction of structures and people would not increase wildfire risks. Shortly after, conservation organizations challenged the County’s approval, and in 2021, the Attorney General intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the people of California. In 2021, the San Diego County Superior Court found in favor of California and the petitioners and vacated the County’s approval of the project. Specifically, the superior court found, among other issues, that the County’s EIR did not adequately disclose or analyze the increased wildfire risk, did not adequately mitigate the significant project-related increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and failed to properly analyze the cumulative impacts of the Otay Ranch project. The developer appealed the court’s ruling. The settlement among the parties resolves the litigation in its entirety.