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SANDAG faces hurdles over transportation plan

REGION — The San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, is facing difficulties with its long range 2050 Regional Transportation Plan.

On Nov. 24 the Fourth District California Court of Appeal, Division 1, voted 2-1 that the plan violates state law because it doesn’t adequately assess or take steps to reduce greenhouse gases in the environmental review of the long-range transportation plan.

In 2005, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases in the state by 2050.

The appellate court found SANDAG’s plans conflicted with the directive and failed to disclose environmental risks of the transportation overhaul.

“We’re definitely disappointed and concerned with the precedent that the judges ruling will affect, in not only SANDAG’s projects, but anybody else that does (California Environmental Quality Act) documents,” Executive Director at SANDAG, Gary Gallegos said.

SANDAG approved the $214 billion transportation plan in October 2011 towards improving transit, highways and local roads and streets throughout San Diego.

Many local and state environmental groups argued the plan was too reliant on widening and extending freeways, which they argue, increase the amount of drivers on the road.

Cleveland National Forest Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club challenged the environmental review of the transportation plan under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The Court of Appeal confirmed that San Diego County officials can’t sweep the threat of climate disruption under the rug,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to make the changes necessary to avoid global warming’s worst effects, our leaders must be honest with us about the long-term consequences of their choices. California’s extended drought is teaching us that the stakes are very high.”

The court found that SANDAG didn’t “analyze a reasonable range of project alternatives” and failed to “adequately analyze and mitigate the transportation

plan’s air quality impacts,” and understated the transportation plan’s impacts on agricultural lands.

“Other regional planning agencies throughout California have properly analyzed the environmental and public health impacts associated with their long-range transportation and land use plans; SANDAG didn’t even try to complete an accurate analysis,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.

SANDAG Executive Director Gallegos disagrees.

“Not every region throughout the state got the same target. So our target in San Diego got a higher target than the central valley did,” Gallegos said.

He said the state legislative laws and the executive order from Governor Schwarzenegger use different measurement methods of greenhouse gas emissions, which can make drafting plans confusing.

“They’re not very clear and easy to understand and they are very conflicted,” Gallegos said.

The California Air Resources Board regulates the amount of pollutants and Gallegos said, gave SANDAG greenhouse reduction emission targets for 2020 and 2025 but not for 2050, which is the projected plan completion date.

SANDAG board members will review the court’s ruling at their next meeting Dec. 5 to decide whether or not they will appeal the decision.

Some of the plans in the project include the widening of Interstate 5 and expansion of the trolley system.

The environmental groups argued the plan “front-loads” projects geared towards automobile transportation and reinforces San Diego’s dependence on car-oriented transportation.

Gallegos said the projects are done based on the date funds are available. Some projects, including trolley and light rail options, can’t get started until projected funding is available, which isn’t for a long time.

Funding for the project comes from the federal, state and local level, as well as TransNet, which is a countywide half-cent sales tax exclusively dedicated to transportation.

SANDAG is currently working on an update to the environmental review for the transportation plan, as required by law.