San Diego

SANDAG Ends Yearslong Legal Battle, Settles with Environmental Groups

SANDAG will pay approximately $1.7 million in attorney’s fee in the settlement

The yearslong legal battle over San Diego's long-term regional transportation plan ended Friday when the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) settled with environmental groups out of court.

The settlement came after the California Supreme Court sided with SANDAG, ruling in July 2017 the agency followed state's law when it conducted its 2011 Environmental Impact Report for its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan.

The Supreme Court’s ruling overturned a 2014 appellate court’s decision on only the greenhouse gas study issue and let stand the lower court’s decisions against SANDAG on other issues.

The high court remanded the remaining issues back to the appellate court. Friday’s settlement puts an end to those issues.

SANDAG will pay approximately $1.7 million in attorney’s fee to Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Center for Biology and Diversity (CBD) and other environmental groups. The settlement will have no impact on SANDAG projects or programs, the agency said.

In a statement to NBC 7, Center for Biological Diversity said the suit is a victory because it required SANDAG to "curb air and climate pollution."

"Californians will breathe cleaner air because future plans must reject the old model of building more highways and encouraging polluting sprawl development,” CBD's attorney Aruna Prabhala said in a statement.

The suit was filed in challenge to the 2011 EIR. The plan was superseded by the current plan’s — San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan — environmental report, which was adopted by SANDAG’s board in 2015. That plan has not received any legal challenges.

The $214-billion plan includes 156 new miles of Trolley service and a new trolley tunnel downtown. The plan also hopes to improve the North County Coaster, add 130 miles of managed freeway lanes and increase $3.8 billion for bike and pedestrian projects.

Federal law requires the region’s long-term transportation plan be updated every four years. The next iteration of the plan is currently in development and is expected to be adopted in 2019.

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