Harris wants to join fight over San Diego transit plan

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jan 25, 2012


SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Monday she plans to file a motion to intervene in a lawsuit seeking improvements to San Diego's regional transit plan.

Harris says she wants the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, Regional Transportation Plan to take a "harder look" at the region's long-term plan for transportation development, especially the possible health effects.

"The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country," the attorney general said in a statement.

"Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air."

The lawsuit, filed in November by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity, argues that the Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, prepared for the plan doesn't adequately address air pollution and climate concerns.

Instead, it prioritizes expanding highways and delays public transportation projects.

Harris already sent a letter to SANDAG in September warning it that the EIR draft on the transit plan was inadequate under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The final EIR, the attorney general says, was not that different.

According to Harris' motion to intervene -- which she says she plans to file Wednesday in San Diego County Superior Court -- the final EIR did not adequately analyze the public health impacts of the increased air pollution.

"The People are particularly concerned about SANDAG's failure to comply with CEQA with respect to three interrelated issues: the adverse environmental effects of the project's heavy emphasis on freeway and highway expansion and extension, to the detriment of public transit and air quality; the adverse effect of the project on the environment experienced by communities that already are overburdened by pollution; and the project's failure to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions that are sustainable over the longer term," she wrote in her filing.

The San Diego region already suffers from "serious" air pollution, Harris noted.

The risk of developing cancer from breathing the particulate pollution in the air is currently estimated at about 480 excess cases of cancer per million people exposed, she said.

"Much of this pollution comes from car and truck traffic on the region's freeways and highways," Harris wrote.

Instead of investing in more public transportation, the transit plan places its priority, at least early on, on expanding or extending freeways and highways.

"Under the RTP/SCS, public transportation projects such as transit projects, and bicycle and foot paths, whose use can greatly reduce driving and the emissions it causes, are largely scheduled for the later years of the RTP/SCS, when funding is less likely to be available," Harris wrote.

"Yet, spending on public transportation is an effective job creator, and will result in greater employment and job retention, as well as ensure that all residents, regardless of income, have ready access to employment centers and jobs."

The attorney general wants SANDAG and its board of directors to reexamine the transit plan and to either redesign it or adopt more measures that would lessen its environmental harm.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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