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Supreme Court won’t hear on Desert Rose

ENCINITAS — The years-long battle between a density-bonus development in Olivenhain and a group of residents opposed to the project is over, as the Supreme Court said it will not hear the group’s petition to review the lawsuit filed against it.

After the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court’s decision that the Desert Rose Development did require a more intensive environmental study, the group, Save Desert Rose, filed for the State Supreme Court to review the case, claiming the appeals court’s ruling had statewide implications.

Last week, the Supreme Court declined to review the case, ending the nearly decade-long battle over the development and paving the way for Woodbridge Farms Estates to break ground on the 16-unit density bonus project.

“We knew when the petition was filed there was only the smallest chance it would be granted,” said Marco Gonzalez, the attorney representing Woodbridge Farms Estates. “With the fight now over, the project is free to move forward and the environmental benefits can be realized along with the development.”

Everett DeLano, who represented Save Desert Rose in the years-long legal battle, expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We knew that with this being such a small project in the scheme of things that the chances they would review it were small, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing,” DeLano said. “We believed the lower court got it right.”

The Fourth District Court of Appeal in October unanimously reversed Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes’ 2014 decision to require the city and Woodbridge Farms Estates, to conduct a more stringent environmental study of the project.

Save Desert Rose formed in 2011 to oppose the project, which was originally submitted in 2007. It hired DeLano around the same time, and sued the city and the developer in 2013 after a split city council overturned the Planning Commission’s denial of the project.

The lawsuit centered around whether the city should have conducted what is known as an environmental impact report, which is a more stringent study than the mitigated negative declaration adopted as part of the project approval.

A mitigated negative declaration essentially states that the project will not cause any significant environmental impacts, while the environmental impact report spells out the potential effects of the project, measures taken to lessen the blow to the environment and studies potential project alternatives.

Desert Rose is one of several high-profile density bonus projects that have come under scrutiny in Encinitas.

State law allows for developers to build extra, or “bonus” homes on land if one or more of the homes are earmarked for low-income residents.

Encinitas residents have complained the projects alter the character of the community with oversized and super-dense units and cause other environmental woes, such as increased traffic and damage to wetlands in the case of Desert Rose.

But according to the 37-page appeal court’s decision, the judges ruled that Save Desert Rose had the burden to prove that the project would cause the environmental woes they argued would occur if an environmental impact report — which is more stringent than a mitigated negative declaration — was not ordered, and failed to do so.

The court said that the measures spelled out in the negative declaration constituted an improvement over the current conditions, and residents could not sue to require the developer to do more than the legal requirements.