Attorney General Bonta Secures Victory in Lawsuit Challenging Approval of San Diego Development in High Wildfire Risk Area
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today applauded a decision by the San Diego Superior Court ordering the County of San Diego to vacate its approval of the Otay Ranch Village 14 and Planning Areas 16/19 (collectively, Otay Ranch) project. The Otay Ranch project is a proposed low-density mixed-use development located in a very high fire hazard severity zone. In today’s decision, the San Diego Superior Court finds that the County of San Diego’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) failed to disclose or analyze the impacts of increased wildfire risk created by bringing thousands of new people and low-density development into an undeveloped area already subject to significant wildfire risks – in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.
“California is on track for yet another record-breaking, climate-fueled wildfire season. As these mega-disasters become the norm, it is more critical than ever that we build responsibly. We can’t keep making the same mistakes,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The land use decisions we make now will have consequences for years and decades to come. Today’s ruling by the Superior Court affirms a critical fact: Local governments have a responsibility to address wildfire risks associated with development projects at the front end. Doing so will save dollars – and lives – down the line.”
The proposed Otay Ranch project lies at the interface of existing development and undisturbed wildland in southwestern San Diego County. 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 EIR, the County acknowledged that this area is vulnerable to wildfire ignition and spread during extreme fire weather. The project would expand the boundary of existing development into thousands of acres of currently vacant open space. At 1,284 acres, the project would include 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 1,119 residences, none were set aside for affordable housing.
In 2019, the County of San Diego approved the proposed Otay Ranch 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 approval, and in 2021, the Attorney General intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the People of California. In today’s decision, the San Diego Superior Court found in the People’s and the conservation organizations’ favor 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.
A copy of the decision can be found here.