Conservation groups sue county over Otay Ranch development

SAN DIEGO — A collective of conservation organizations filed lawsuits Thursday against San Diego County and its board of supervisors for approving a controversial housing development in the Otay Ranch community, with the groups claiming that the development endangers wildlife and the development’s future residents.

Adara at Otay Ranch (Credit: County of San Diego)

The project known as Adara was approved last month with a 3-2 vote and involves construction of more than 1,000 homes and a commercial village core, along with an elementary school, fire station, sheriff’s office, trails, electric vehicle charging stations, solar panels and more than 700 acres of open space and parks.

Environmental groups contend that its location, between the city of Chula Vista and rural community Jamul, is home to several endangered and protected plant and animal species and is at exceptional risk for wildfires.

Plaintiffs include the Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee, the California Chaparral Institute, Endangered Habitats League, California Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club.

“Building houses in this fire-prone place will put people at risk, and it’ll wreak havoc on golden eagles and other wildlife,” said Peter Broderick, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By approving this sprawl project, officials have put both homeowners and wildlife in danger. They’ve dealt a big setback to sustainable development in San Diego County.”

In their complaint, the plaintiffs referenced county data identifying “22 special-status plants and 28 special-status wildlife species” on the project site.

They also allege that the area is especially prone to wildfires, which was noted by Supervisor Dianne Jacob in her dissenting vote on the project.

The complaint states the area “has burned at least 17 times in the last 100 years” and is “at serious risk for fast-moving, wind-driven fires.”

The site’s steep terrain would make suppressing fires difficult, and homeowners would only have one evacuation route available, according to the plaintiffs.

Peter Andersen, chair of the Sierra Club’s San Diego Chapter, called the project “a fire trap that endangers all East County residents, contributes to severe traffic jams and destroys multiple species’ habitat,” while Richard Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute said “History has shown that during a wind-driven wildfire, developments like this one in a known fire corridor can and have been destroyed by embers flying a mile or more ahead of the flame front. The claim that a development like this is fire safe ignores everything we have learned during the destructive 2017 and 2018 firestorms.”

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