February 2012 home page

If the Suit Fits
Dwight Worden | Seaview Avenue

(Following are excerpts from Worden’s more detailed analysis.  For the complete analysis in pdf format, click here.)

The SOL under water on December 29, 2010.
Photo Jacqueline Winterer


Lawsuits challenging the Fair Board’s expansionist master plan have been settled. The cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach, the San Dieguito River Park JPA, and the Sierra Club all filed suits challenging the Master Plan and its EIR.

The status of these three cases leaves the Fair Board in an interesting situation: They have to redo parts of their Master Plan and EIR to comply with the court ruling in the Sierra Club case, including re-opening traffic and mitigation, green house gas, and water issues. And, there are Master Plan revisions required by the City/JPA settlement. This means new work product, public review and comment, and compliance with the CEQA process. It also means that the Fair Board will have to certify the updated EIR as adequate and will have to re-adopt a Revised Master Plan and mitigation measures.

The Cities and the JPA Settlement
Is this a good deal? Form your own conclusions. It has some good stuff for Del Mar in it, for sure, but it also has many hedge words and tentative and contingent commitments. If the settlement reflects a new sincerity on the part of the Fair Board to be a good neighbor, and if the Board implements the agreement from that perspective, then this settlement can be a good thing. If the Fair Board chooses to narrowly interpret its commitments and to hide in the vague language, the settlement will not amount to much.

Interesting point number 1: This is not the same Fair Board that approved the initial Master Plan. Will the new Board do a better job? Will the new Board members be more responsive to local concerns? Will they address and improve the Master Plan on all issues of merit, not just the court ordered ones? The new Board members will have that opportunity and challenge. It will be interesting to see how they act. Whatever they do this new EIR and Master Plan will be theirs.
Interesting point number 2: Kamala Harris, the California Attorney General, entered the SANDAG case in support of the Sierra Club and other petitioners on the grounds that the state’s new greenhouse gas laws calling for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and implementation of a Sustainable Communities Strategy were not being satisfied by the new RTP and its EIR. The AG’s office took a strong stance in favor of strict application of these new green house gas rules and the court ruled in their favor on that issue.

Interestingly, this is the same AG’s office that represents the Fair Board, and the Fair Board will be revisiting green house gas issues to comply with the Sierra Club Master Plan court ruling. Will the Fair Board have any choice but to follow the broad interpretation of how to comply with green house gas laws already staked out by its lawyers in the SANDAG case? Will the Fair Board actually, and seriously, address green house gas issues? They haven’t so far.

If they do, they may well find themselves backed into having to throw considerable new support, financial and otherwise, to mass transit, a rail platform, other major traffic measures, or reduction in the scope of the project, as these are among the only realistic ways to significantly reduce the green house gas emissions predicted to come from implementation of the Master Plan. Or, perhaps the Fair Board will get outside counsel, step away from the AG’s office, and continue to pursue its historical strategy of minimal compliance? Perhaps the deputy AG representing the Fair Board will try to advocate for a position that differs from the boss’s position in the SANDAG case?

Stay tuned. It sure looks to be interesting to see how all this plays out. One thing, though, is that the Cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach took their dogs out of the coming fight. The settlement they signed precludes them in advance from challenging how the Fair Board handles green house gas and the other issues at play under the court rulings in the Sierra Club case. It is not clear why the cities agreed to that point, but they did. That leaves those of us who care about serious green house gas compliance rooting that the Sierra Club hangs in and holds the Fair Board’s feet to the fire.



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