Backcountry housing projects hit with lawsuit

0
25
Avitar.jpg

A preliminary hearing has been set for Sept. 14 at San Diego Central Courthouse in the lawsuit against the backcountry housing projects in line for approval by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to hear initial complaints regarding environmental and other concerns surrounding the project.

Taiga Takahashi, an attorney with Latham & Watkins, said their lawsuit, and one by the Sierra Club to be heard the same day, is meant to check the pace of the Newland Sierra project to make sure all environmental concerns are being met.

A preliminary hearing has been set for Sept. 14 at San Diego Central Courthouse in the lawsuit against the backcountry housing projects in line for approval by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to hear initial complaints regarding environmental and other concerns surrounding the project.

Taiga Takahashi, an attorney with Latham & Watkins, said their lawsuit, and one by the Sierra Club to be heard the same day, is meant to check the pace of the Newland Sierra project to make sure all environmental concerns are being met.

The housing projects hit headlines this spring as attention was brought to the General Plan, which only allows for three amendments a year. The General Plan is the growth strategy developed for the county to guide investments in housing and highway infrastructure, among other things.

These housing projects, totaling more than 10,000 units have made their way toward the board of supervisors as bundles, a technical loophole to the General Plan’s three amendment stipulation. Newland Sierra, the largest project with some 2,000 units, was bulleted to come before the board sometime this month.

Despite public outcry, the projects seem to continue rolling forward, said Takahashi.

“It’s something we’ve known about for a while and it just keeps tricking out as we get more documents from the county that there is a very strong lobbying effort going on to sideline the local folks who don’t think this project is appropriate for their location, so they’re going over their heads,” he said.

Right now, Takahashi big concern is the county’s auto-delete policy. Currently, the county automatically deletes archived emails after sixty days.

“When we get into really any of these lawsuits, a lot relies on the administrative record,” he said. “The county’s position seems to be that they have no obligation to keep those documents until a lawsuit is actually filed, but these projects are in process for years, so there are these years of emails that are getting deleted on a sixty day basis, so when someone actually sues and asks for the administrative record, you’re only going to get the last sixty days of communication.”

Latham & Watkins has a temporary restraining order on the county in an effort to preserve email communication which may serve as evidence in the trial proceedings.

The projects, which include limited or no affordable housing components, have been met with a bevy of concerns, including impacts to the environment, transit infrastructure and the housing market.

Mostly, said land-use analyst Clif Williams, it is an undermining of the General Plan.

“It sets a horrible precedent in general throughout the county, and that’s the complete overriding of the general plan that was only passed seven years ago,” said Williams. “It’s true that General Plans are amended and sometimes changed, but here we have a plan that was created only seven years ago that was a grand compromise to find the appropriate places for development and what the county is doing is overseeing a complete and total overturning of that document that all of those interest groups spent 10 years and forty million dollars creating.”

Some of the bundles set to be considered by the county have already met with voters. Lilac Hills Ranch was on the 2016 ballot and was defeated by a 64 percent majority. Now, unchanged, the same proposal is soaring toward the county board in October.

Takahashi said it is important that residents speak up about their desires for their community.

“They need to be active in participating in their government, first of all,” said Takahashi. “There is an initiative that will be on the ballot in 2020 that will require a vote of the people for these large General Plan amendment projects. But I think they should write and call their supervisors and tell them that they want to be able to vote on the project.”

Although unable to comment directly on any of the projects awaiting county board approval, county supervisor Dianne Jacob said the General Plan is important to take into consideration when strategizing about the county’s future.

“The county’s General Plan provides our marching orders and we need to stand by them,” Jacob said in a statement. “It steers development to existing communities, aims to limit losses from wildfire and protects groundwater and critical open space. While the plan does include a provision for amendments, it’s critical we do all we can to preserve the balance it strikes between allowing new housing and preserving what makes our region special.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here