The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 this week to approve the Otay Ranch Resort Village 13, a mixed-use community to be developed near Chula Vista, despite concerns from California's attorney general that the development could increase the risk of wildfires.
When completed on a 1,869-acre plot of land, Otay Ranch Resort Village will feature 1,938 energy-efficient homes, a fire station, sheriff's station, trails, an elementary school, parks and open space, according to a county staff presentation.
Proposed by developers Baldwin & Sons and Moller Otay Lakes Investments, Otay Ranch Village is located less than a mile east of Chula Vista and 12 miles southwest of the community of Jamul.
Eric Johnston, senior project manager of Baldwin & Sons, said the project will result in 600 new jobs and $3.3 million in annual revenue.
The county Planning Commission voted 4-2 in favor of approval, and the county Planning & Development Services department also recommended approval.
But just before the proposal was scheduled to be heard by the County Board of Supervisors, California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra sent a letter to the board cautioning members against approving the project until it "adequately addresses the increase risk of wildfire that the project will create."
"As we come out the other side of yet another destructive wildfire season, it has never been more important for local governments to carefully review and consider the risks associated with approving new developments in fire-prone areas,” Becerra said. "We urge the County of San Diego to fully evaluate – and work to mitigate – the wildfire risks posed by the Otay Ranch project before moving any further in the approval process.”
Although he praised the overall project, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher cast the lone no vote.
"My reluctance today is that we're very close to resolving a series of lawsuits and there's an effort to get a legally enforceable climate action plan, and then we can assess this project," he said.
Fletcher said that while the project is consistent with the density requirements in the county General Plan, his concerns over the use of carbon offsets prevented him from voting yes on Wednesday.
The county's plan has been the subject of several legal challenges. In June, a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego found that reliance on carbon offsets was not legal, and shouldn't be used as a mechanism to allow general plan amendments to move forward.
Board Chairman Greg Cox said the project has "gone above and beyond" to address greenhouse gas emissions.
Cox said the county is facing a housing shortage emergency, and Otay Ranch Resort Village is "one that's better designed than most I've seen" in terms of fire safety. ``I believe this is a good project that checks all the boxes,'' he added.
Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce CEO Lisa Cohen called the project "a smart, walkable, net-zero community." She added it will enhance the region with a network of public trails, a 10-acre public park, and preserve over 1,000 acres of sensitive habitat.
But some environmental groups urged the board to table the project until the county resolves issues over its Climate Action Plan, along with species protection concerns and wildfire hazards. They said the project doesn't have enough protections for species such as the Quino checkerspot butterfly or certain plants, including scrub oak.
Noah Harris, of Climate Action Campaign, said the project was justification for more sprawl and increased car pollution. Approving this project is "nothing but climate change denial," Harris said.
Supervisor Jim Desmond said that despite problems with the Climate Action Plan, the county shouldn't have to stop all development.
The board vice chairman also said that Otay Ranch Resort Village 13 complies with the county's Multiple Species Conservation Program, and received the blessing of San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham.
"This is fantastic; it's showing real progress and real effort," Desmond added.
In a statement released after Wednesday's meeting, the Center for Biological Diversity criticized the board's decision.
"San Diego County officials apparently learned no lessons from the disastrous fires that burned millions of acres in California this summer," said Peter Broderick, an attorney with the center. "Everybody living in the area will face increased fire risk, and thousands more cars will clog the roads when the inevitable evacuation call comes."
The environmental group also noted that three of the four supervisors -- Cox, Dianne Jacob and Kristin Gaspar -- who approved the project are leaving their seats in January.