SAN DIEGO (CNS) – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office filed motions Wednesday to join in litigation challenging San Diego County over the proposed Otay Ranch projects near Chula Vista.
Becerra’s office alleges the Environmental Impact Reports for the proposed projects fail to properly account for wildfire and greenhouse gas impacts at the project sites, which are “located in a very high fire hazard severity zone.”
The Otay Ranch Resort Village 13 and Otay Ranch Village 14 and Planning Areas 16/19 projects are part of a 23,000-acre residential development — the largest in San Diego County’s history.
The nearly 700-acre Otay Ranch Resort Village 13 project envisions nearly 1,900 single-family units, in addition to 57 multi-family units, 20,000 square feet of commercial space and a resort with 200 guest rooms. The Otay Ranch Village 14 project is slated for 1,284 acres and involves construction of 1,119 single-family residences, a mixed-use site with 10,000 square feet of commercial space, parks and a fire station.
Becerra’s office alleges that despite numerous fires that have sparked in the project areas over the years, the EIRs “repeatedly underplay the severity of the wildfire risk, concluding despite all scientific evidence to the contrary that the introduction of structures and people will not increase wildfire risks.”
The lawsuits that the Attorney General’s office are seeking to join were filed in San Diego by various environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.
“On the heels of another dry winter, Californians are looking toward wildfire season with a familiar pit of dread in their stomachs,” Becerra said in a statement release Wednesday afternoon. “Devastating wildfires have become the norm in recent years, with dozens of deaths and whole towns forced to evacuate.
“That’s why local governments must address the wildfire risks associated with new developments at the front end. It is imperative for public safety — and required by the law,” he said. “Today’s action aims to ensure that the County of San Diego does all it can to mitigate the risks of the Otay Ranch projects before they are built.”
“It’s unprecedented,” said Char Miller, a professor of Environmental Analysis for Pomona College. He’s an expert on wildfires and their impacts on communities.
“Effectively, what the AG is doing is trying to assert a state power to try and protect people so they don’t have to run away from wildfires. We’ve been drying out since the 1980’s that’s going to continue until at least the end of the century. So, you put out more dry landscapes, houses going into dry landscapes and more people who are there and you have an absolute public relations disaster. I think the AG is saying let’s rethink this policy because it’s not going to end well.”
Becerra was also confirmed as President Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary this week. He’ll resign the seat and Gov. Gavin Newsom will name his replacement.
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