San Diego County CA— The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) announced today that it has agreed to pay attorney’s fees to settle the remainder of a lawsuit challenging the environmental review of its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan – winding up a years’ long case during which SANDAG prevailed at the California Supreme Court on one of the key issues in the dispute.
While the settlement will result in approximately $1.7 million in attorney’s fees being paid to the plaintiffs in the case, it will have no practical impact on any projects or programs being implemented by the agency. The lawsuit was filed challenging the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) adopted in 2011. That plan was superseded by the current plan – San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan – and its EIR in 2015. That version of the plan has received no legal challenges.
The SANDAG Board of Directors adopted the 2050 RTP – a long-range planning document that outlined $214 billion in transportation investments – in 2011. The Cleveland National Forest Foundation and other plaintiffs subsequently filed suit challenging the EIR, which is a separate document that analyzes the environmental impacts of the RTP.
A trial court initially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on most counts, and SANDAG appealed. In late 2014, a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a split decision on whether SANDAG fully complied with state environmental laws in preparing the EIR for its RTP. Two of the three justices concluded that the EIR needed to do more analysis. The third justice disagreed, concluding that SANDAG had applied the correct standards in analyzing the potential environmental impacts of the RTP. SANDAG then appealed to the California Supreme Court.
In March 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, focusing on the issue of whether the EIR for a regional transportation plan must include an analysis of the plan’s consistency with the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals reflected in Executive Order No. S-3-05 to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.
In a ruling released in July 2017, the California Supreme Court concluded that SANDAG properly conducted the greenhouse gas analysis in the environmental review of its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, finding that the agency “sufficiently informed the public, based on the information available at the time, about the regional plan‘s greenhouse gas impacts.”
The high court then remanded the remaining issues raised in the lawsuit back to the Court of Appeal, which has since remanded the case to the trial court for final disposition.
The parties have since negotiated the settlement announced today, which will result in the payment of attorney’s fees and the decertification of the 2011 EIR for the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan. This will have no practical impact because the document has since been replaced by the latest version of the EIR and RTP adopted by the Board in 2015. Federal law requires that the region’s RTP be updated every four years. SANDAG is currently developing the next iteration of the plan, which is expected to be adopted in fall 2019. More information is available about that process at: SDForward.com