Attorney General and Sierra Club join law suit against SANDAG’s flawed transportation plan

by on January 27, 2012 · 1 comment

in California, Economy, Environment, San Diego

by Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / January 26, 2012

Some big news for sleepy little San Diego this week, as both Sierra Club of California and Attorney General Kamala Harris joined a local lawsuit challenging SANDAG’s 2050 regional plan.

For her part, the Attorney General had previously weighed in on the plan, cautioning that it failed to meet the state’s standards for emissions reductions and warning of trouble on the horizon if action wasn’t taken. And yet, no action was taken. Despite being explicitly warned that its plan would have significant legal problems, SANDAG’s leadership just went ahead and did it anyways. And now SANDAG Chairman Jerome Stocks is very sad that the state’s Attorney General would spend tax dollars to ensure the law is followed.

Not so much chagrined, but frustrated and disappointed. There is rather less of the same sentiment from Stocks that after all the time and money invested in coming up with the plan, it couldn’t manage to address legal problems that were flagged in advance. Instead, his lament is that anyone would bother to care whether the plan is legal. Stocks, of course, has publicly railed against the enforcement of basic environmental protections on principle before, so perhaps his reaction to the law applying is understandable.

It’s a disturbing trend throughout the region — elected leaders who are indignant about steamrolling the law to get whatever they want, and telling anyone who cares to stop wasting time. But laws aren’t optional. Neither individual people nor government agencies get to pick and choose what laws apply based on what’s convenient. And applying a standard of ‘would you personally prefer the law not apply to you’ would empty our prisons pretty quick.

Is this the best our current leaders can do? It isn’t even the bare minimum anymore. We’ve somehow even managed to descend past that to ‘barely legal if we’re lucky’ and a debate over whether the law should even apply when it’s inconvenient.

The idea that we have to pick between the law and getting things done is just not true — it’s a canard of the lazy and those who can’t accomplish their goals legally. If a judge asked “Why did you rob that bank?” and the robber replied “Because working takes too long,” we wouldn’t all turn around and say “Exactly! Legalize bank robbery!” For leaders like Stocks to push such a premise should be embarrassing.

But this is the same mentality we’ve seen with Snapdragon. With Balboa Park. With the city permitting process. With the proposed Convention Center expansion deal. What’s a hundred grand between friends? Public review isn’t fast enough. Making sure we don’t poison each other takes too long. Taxpayers are too careful with their money to sufficiently subsidize developers.

This sort of whiny excuse-making ought to be laughable, but somehow it passes as an acceptable standard of leadership. If it’s inconvenient for those who think we have to choose between the law and getting things done? Good.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Pete R January 27, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I understand the author’s frustration with this issue, but the timing he implies is misleading. SANDAG was not informed of the AG’s concerns “in advance,” as the author says. Rather, AG Harris submitted her initial letter expressing concern to SANDAG in September – a full five months AFTER the Draft RTP had been released, and one month after the already-extended comment period had closed. The RTP is a major undertaking based on months of research, modeling, and planning; by the time Harris’s letter arrived in September, all the public comments had been received and addressed, the Draft RTP had already been edited to its final state, and the publication was already being sent to print in preparation for formal public adoption in October.

So no, the AG’s concerns did NOT arrive in enough time for SANDAG to do anything substantial about them. In her letter, Harris essentially asked SANDAG to go back to the drawing board on both the EIS impact analysis as well as the air quality projections. This is simply not something that could be done on such short notice. With federal law requiring the release of the RTP on time, SANDAG essentially had no choice but to proceed in spite of Harris’s last-minute complaint.

In addition, the author writes about this issue as if there is a clear boundary between what is legal and what is not. But in fact, the laws in question are complicated and subject to quite a bit of interpretation. For example, one of the items Harris objects to is the RTP’s air quality projections, which she says do not sufficiently reduce GHG emissions as required by state laws AB32 and SB375. However, the CA Air Resources Board (the agency responsible for implementation of AB32 and SB375) issued a report in September, just prior to Harris’s letter, confirming that the RTP DOES meet state-mandated GHG reduction targets. The author’s accusation that SANDAG is “indignant about steamrolling the law” is simply untrue; the truth is that there is room for a lot of legal interpretation here, and both SANDAG staff and CARB regulators interpreted the law in a manner that differs from the AG.

Again, I understand the author’s frustration with this issue. I am an environmental and transit advocate myself, and I wish our region would pursue sustainability goals more aggressively. But regional planning requires striking a very careful balance among many factors: the region’s transportation needs, the many requirements of state and federal law, the tight constraints of revenue, and the wide-ranging opinions of the public. Not everyone wants the same things, and in my opinion SANDAG staff has made an admirable effort to balance all of these competing interests.

Of course the author may disagree with this balance, and he has the right to do so. But I object to his use of such inflammatory and misleading rhetoric. It demonstrates either that he is unaware of some of the important details surrounding this issue, or that he is simply glossing over those details because they don’t support his ideology. Either way, this half-cocked rant is misleading and unfair, and does little to advance rational discourse.


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