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Lanes or Trains
Ann Gardner | Via Latina

Will federal funds for the proposed widening of North Coastal I-5 be set aside for public transit projects first? The answer is pending in a precedent setting case accepted for review by the California Supreme Court. That Court has agreed to review two lower Courts’ findings that the Environmental Impact Report for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) 2050 Transportation Plan fails to take into account an Executive Order to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The plaintiffs, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF), Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, although disappointed by the “prolonged litigation,” said:

“The …Court has granted partial review of a closely-watched environmental case that could have broad implication for transportation planning throughout the state. Both the superior and appellate courts agreed that (SANDAG) failed to fully assess and mitigate against the climate risks associated with its plan which invest heavily in freeways…at the expense of public transit,” attorneys for the petitioners said. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court let stand the vast majority of the lower courts’ decision that the EIR does not meet CEQA standards and misleads the public regarding greenhouse gas emissions.”

In a statement released by SANDAG, Chair and Santee Councilmember Jack Dale said “The Supreme Court’s decision to grant review is a key step forward to help clarify state law on greenhouse gas emissions. The appellate court decision left agencies throughout the state with question on what standards to apply. We are hopeful the Court will help resolve the confusion.”

The San Diego County Superior Court ruled as early as 2012 that the SANDAG 2050 Plan did not meet CEQA standards; SANDAG appealed the ruling. The Superior Court findings were upheld in November, 2014 by the Fourth District Court of Appeal focusing on the EIR’s failure to consider Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order S-3-05 requiring greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 80% below 1990 emission by 2050. The SANDAG Board of Directors voted to appeal that decision the next month. The California Supreme Court accepted the appeal in March.

Jack Shu, CNFF spokesperson, cautioned that the Supreme Court’s decision is likely a year away. He hopes SANDAG will be required to work out a new Plan that is more transparent about the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and health impacts when more freeway lanes rather than more public transit come first.

 

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