Judge Rules SANDAG Transportation Plan Violates California Law

California Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled on Monday, December 3 that state law was violated by the San Diego Association of Governments through their failure to account for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in the SANDAG Transportation Plan/ Sustainable Communities Strategy.

Taylor’s reasoning for his ruling was that the long-term transportation plan will “increase climate-disrupting greenhouse gas emissions from development and transportation throughout the mid-century.” This plan was not properly timed on SANDAG’s behalf, and was in direct conflict with former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s executive order  that stated drastic change was needed statewide to decrease the effects of climate change. Taylor further noted that failure to heed the executive order, as well as promote sustainable transportation to the area affected his ruling. He continued that San Diego is a low-lying area, which is subject to the affects of a rising sea-level, and must follow climate-change trends more closely.

Background on the Case/Transit Plan

The ruling was on a lawsuit that was filed by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, the Center for Biological diversity, and the Sierra Club under the California Environmental Quality Act.  Another related lawsuit was then filed by CREED-21 and the Affordable Housing Commission of San Diego against the plan as well.

The SANDAG plan was approved on October 28 of 2011 – a $200 billion project that placed more emphasis on interstates with transit money, rather than promoting “smart growth” in transportation. Known as the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), the proposed plan would “front-load” the expansion and extension of freeways, which would only propagate the area’s dependence on cars for transportation. Those against the plan felt that the project would lead to a per-capita increase in the production of greenhouse gases, which is in conflict with the state’s regulations.

Directors of the proposed transit plan also approved:

• Evaluating alternative land use scenarios as part of the Regional Comprehensive Plan (RCP) update to attempt to address the so-called “backsliding” of greenhouse gas levels between years 2035-2050.
• Developing an early action program for projects included in the Regional Bicycle Plan.
• Planning for the broader Active Transportation program, including Safe Routes to School and Safe Routes to Transit, within the next two years.
• Implementing an action to develop a regional transit-oriented development policy in the 2050 RTP Sustainable Communities Strategy to promote and incentivize sustainable development.
• Continuing to make enhancements to the travel demand models; the activity-based models currently under development will be “open source” and available for the next RTP update.
• Developing a regional complete streets policy within the next two years.

“The court is setting an important example here for regional planning agencies throughout California,” said Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California. “We cannot wait another forty years to adopt sensible transportation and land-use policies. Thanks to California laws requiring public agencies to be open about their plans, we were able to hold SANDAG accountable for its faulty planning practices.”

Now SANDAG must reevaluate its 2050 transportation plan, adhering to its affect on climate change much more stringently. Having checks and balances on proposed mass transit plans, such as SANDAG’s 2050 plan, will ultimately protect the city against climate change. Hopefully SANDAG’s revisions will highly take into account the affect of mass transit in the area.