February 17 – SDUT – Karen Pearlman reports – Three environmental conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court challenging the Sustainable Santee Plan, the city of Santee’s climate action plan passed by the City Council last month.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Climate Action Campaign and Preserve Wild Santee say the city of Santee and the City Council passed its Climate Action Plan and associated Environmental Impact Report without regard for the proposed Fanita Ranch development, which they say will add a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions to the city’s inventory.
The groups say the city’s failure to account for Fanita Ranch makes its Sustainable Santee Plan inaccurate.
Home Fed Corp., the developers of Fanita Ranch, in the city’s plans since the 1980s, are proposing to add nearly 3,000 homes to the city on 2,650 acres of open space off Fanita Parkway. The latest version of the development is expected to go before the City Council later this year. Home Fed will need a General Plan amendment to build Fanita Ranch in Santee because the project exceeds the city’s building criteria. The development could also trigger a citywide vote if a citizens’ initiative about non-compliant projects passes with Santee voters in November.
Sustainable Santee was approved by the City Council in January. The council also certified an environmental impact report along with it, but the petitioners say that by doing so, the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act, making the climate plan inconsistent with Santee’s General Plan.
The environmental groups say that Sustainable Santee allows the Fanita Ranch project to rely solely on the climate plan’s environmental impact report for its project-level climate impact analysis, thus allowing Fanita Ranch to avoid more consideration of mitigation alternatives that could reduce its expected impact on the climate.
“The climate emergency demands real, enforceable measures to cut pollution, not free passes to sprawl,” said attorney John Buse from the Center for Biological Diversity. “The built-in loophole for Fanita Ranch undermines the entire climate plan and only digs us deeper into this crisis.”
Buse said the petitioners are asking the court to order Santee to rescind its certification of the environmental impact report and to prevent the use of Sustainable Santee to avoid environmental review of the Fanita Ranch project.
“We are looking for full disclosure and mitigation for the greenhouse gas impacts, that’s what we want,” Buse said. “Right now, we think that Santee’s CAP has lots of good things but there’s one bad thing — basically the easy road streamlining for Fanita Ranch, which we see as very expressly singled out.”
HomeFed Corp. Director of Operations Jeff O’Connor said because the legal issue involves Santee and not Fanita Ranch, “it would be inappropriate” for the group to weigh in at this time.
The groups say they are concerned that greenhouse gas emissions out of the proposed Fanita Ranch project would not be considered “significant” if the project is considered to be consistent with Santee’s climate action plan. They are troubled that the city has performed no specific environmental analysis of Fanita Ranch’s expected environmental impacts.
“Thanks to this loophole in the CAP, the Fanita Ranch project has been given a pre-approval free pass on its greenhouse gas emissions, and the CAP has missed a prime opportunity to address the single project that will be responsible for most of the city’s new emissions,” the lawsuit says.
City Manager Marlene Best said the city would not comment at this time.
The Sustainable Santee plan says it meets California requirements, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, or 15 percent below the 2005 levels, by this year. The 324,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide released in Santee in 2005 must be cut to at least 275,400 metric tons.
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