Conservation News for the Fall

By Frank Landis, Conservation Committee Chair

The next eight months are going to be a bit of a rocky ride for everyone, as the political din of the 2020 election season drowns everything else out. Here’s a round-up of major events from the last two months and what to, erm, look forward to. And more importantly, what to act on.

First off, CNPS has joined Endangered Habitats League, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Chaparral Institute, and Preserve Wild Santee in suing to decertify the County’s 3-2 approval of the Otay Ranch Village 14 development, now renamed Adara. We’re specifically partnering with EHL on a suit. Along with Newland Sierra, that makes two cases our society is involved in.

Second: on August 5, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to approve The Preserve at Torrey Highlands, a 450,000 square foot office building on the eastern edge of Del Mar Mesa. I and two other CNPSers were there, along with 52 other environmentalist speakers. We are deeply disappointed with the result. Kudos to Councilmembers Gomez, Bry, and Montgomery for voting against it, and brickbats to Ward, Campbell, and Moreno for voting for it. Protect Our Preserves (protectourpreserves.org) spearheaded the fight against The Preserve, and if you want to help them, go to their websiteand donate. I’ve been actively involved helping them. Since The Preserve property didn’t have any listed plant species onit, CNPS won’t litigate. That doesn’t mean the project won’t further trash Del Mar Mesa, which is why I’m personally fighting it, but state CNPS, the organization which actually sues, has fairly strong guidelines for when we do and do not get involved in cases. In any case, Protect Our Preserves needs your help.

Third, Safari Highlands, a really problematic development in Escondido just up the hill from the Safari Park, has a new name: Harvest Hills! It’s green-washing, bright green lipstick on a real pig of a project. It appears that they plan to do a superficial document redo to establish their social credentials and tap-dance it by the (formerly?) skeptical Escondido City Council this fall without releasing a supplemental EIR. There is strong local opposition to this development. CNPSSD submitted comments back when the pig was named Safari Highlands, and we will stay involved.

Fourth, there’s a swarm of ugliness coming to your County Supervisors this fall. Said ugliness includes Lilac Hills Ranch and Otay Ranch Village 13.

You may remember voting down Lilac Hills Ranch two years ago? Well, your County Development Department allowed them to pursue two applications. One got rejected by the voters, but given the way the County is acting, it’s entirely possible that the supervisors will not care about widespread disgust with this project and approve the second application anyway. After all, two of the supervisors are termed out, and two of the three remaining are massively pro-development.

Otay Ranch Village 13 is just down the road from Otay Ranch Village 14. It has most of the same problems, and probably will meet most of the same fate: being voted in 4-1 or 3-2, then being litigated against. One of the major drivers for most environmental groups (other than CNPS) is that Village 13 and 14, should they be developed, would wipe out the biggest population of Quino checkerspot butterfly, probably dooming the species. There are plant issues too, which is why we will stay involved.

Both of these projects require General Plan Amendments to go through, and both rely on language aligned with the County’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). That document got thrown out by a judge last year, and the County is appealing. If I haven’t lost count, that makes the sixth legal action they’ve taken, trying to get their problematic CAPs through, and so far they’ve lost every single one. If the appeals judge finds in favor of the plaintiffs in the environmental community, that will cause huge problems for all the GPA developments that depended on balancing their carbon budgets on carbon offsets (e.g. planting trees somewhere else in the world), since that’s what’s been causing all the trouble.

Then, there are elections, March 3, 2020. As a reminder, CNPS is a 501(c)(3). As such we cannot lobby for or against specific candidates, only on issues. You may personally choose to pay close attention to the environmental actions of those who you are going to vote on in the March 3 primary. Either way, I urge you to put environmental issues on your list of factors that influence how you vote. There are two measures on the ballot which directly affect CNPS.

The first is a referendum on the certification of the NewlandSierra EIR. Should this pass, the supervisors’ decision tocertify this GPA development is thrown out, and with it the project. This may end our litigation to do the same thing, which would be good.

The second is an initiative, Save Our San Diego Countryside (https://saveoursdcountryside.org/) that would change the rules. If this initiative passes, all development in the unincorporated county still has to go through a normal CEQA review, including a vote by the Board of Supervisors. The change is when the Supervisors pass a General PlanAmendment project, the initiative would then “require voter approval of amendments to the General Plan that increase residential density in semi-rural or rural areas, with certain exceptions. The voter approval requirement does not apply to minor increases in density, properties within existing village or rural village boundaries, or changes required to implement state or federal housing law, including laws related to the provision of affordable housing” (from the SOSwebsite above).

In practical terms, the SOS initiative means that Newland Sierra, Otay Ranch Village 14, Otay Ranch Village 13, Lilac Hills Ranch, Valiano, and Harmony Grove Village South would all have to go to the voters after the Supervisors approved them, if they were coming up this went into law. And if they all losein court, they’re probably all going to get their EIRs redoneand come back again. Similar measures have passed elsewhere in California and withstood legal scrutiny.

What does this mean for you? More influence, bluntly, and I strongly urge everyone who can to vote for both measures next March. The reason is simple: we live in a County where (as in most of the U.S.) special interests have a disproportionate amount of pull. The initiatives, especially SOS, take some of that away, by giving you a chance to look at the project yourself and express your opinion directly, since your representatives may be doing a very bad job of working in your interests.

I urge you to contribute to the SOS initiative now, because they’re ramping up to deal with the political, um, sandstorm that’s going to be headed their way in coming months.

In the longer run, the goal for the County is simply to get them to write a Climate Action Plan that actually, seriously works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to change development culture to follow the General Plan (which favors more affordable housing in villages near transit hubs, rather than million dollar homes in high fire areas in the back country), and to see if a viable North County MSCP is possible.

For the City of San Diego, the goal is to get them to actually implement that Climate Action Plan they’re so proud of. Reportedly, there’s only one full-time staffer assigned to the Program, which may be why it’s not meeting its goals.

My goal for all of us is to pitch in and help. We’ve got a global warming problem which is uncontrolled and getting worse. If we don’t do enough, San Diego’s going to become unlivable for most people due simply to water and food supply disruptions in coming decades. For the native plants and animals, some on the coast are now shut into habitat islands (aka “parks”) and will need help migrating to survive at all. The inland species still have two wildlife corridors open running north. One runs through Newland Sierra, the other through Rancho Guejito, next to Safari Highlands/Harvest Hills. If these get closed by development, the wildlife this side of the mountains will have no way to migrate north to cope with the changing climate. Since plants use wildlife corridors too, this is a recipe for extinction.

If you don’t want this to happen, you need to get involved. Donate, show up to register your opinion at County Supervisor meetings, or to cede time to other speakers at City Council (this basically means sitting around for a couple of hours and raising your hand once). And vote for initiativeslike SOS. It’s a minor drag but compared with the problems it helps to stave off, it’s a truly trivial imposition.