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For Immediate Release, January 4, 2008

Contact:

John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416
Van Collinsworth, Preserve Wild Santee, ( 619) 258-7929
Michael Beck, Endangered Habitats League, ( 619) 846-3003

Conservationists Challenge Fanita Ranch Project;
Santee Development Would Be Ecological Disaster  

SAN DIEGO— The Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee, and the Endangered Habitats League filed a lawsuit today challenging the City of Santee’s approval of the Fanita Ranch project, a sprawling residential development to be located on rugged open space on the city’s northern edge.

The suit follows the city’s Dec. 5, 2007 approval of the project and is based on the city’s failure to eliminate or reduce the project’s serious impacts to people and wildlife. Most of the Fanita Ranch site is designated as critical habitat for the California gnatcatcher. It also contains many other rare species that would be adversely affected by the project, including the Quino checkerspot butterfly and the San Diego fairy shrimp, as well as a diverse assortment of habitats that are rapidly vanishing from San Diego County, such as numerous small seasonal wetlands known as vernal pools. In addition, the development is not consistent with the wildlife and habitat protection goals of San Diego’s long-term habitat conservation program, the Multiple Species Conservation Plan. “This highly fragmented project design does not meet Multiple Species Conservation Plan conservation standards,” said Michael Beck, the San Diego director of the Endangered Habitats League.

In 2003, the Cedar Fire burned most of Fanita Ranch, providing a stark warning of the risk of building homes on its steep natural topography. But the Fanita project would add another 20 miles of wildland-urban interface in a severe fire-hazard area. “At Fanita Ranch, protecting wildlife and public safety can go hand-in-hand,” said Preserve Wild Santee director Van Collinsworth. “Unfortunately, Santee has failed to do either.”

Although Santee voters rejected a previous development proposal for the site by a 2-to-1 margin in 1999, the city has refused to put the matter to voters again. “Our lawsuit seeks to hold the City Council accountable for its monumental error,” said Collinsworth.

The groups behind the lawsuit also raised legal objections to the inadequate water supply, serious traffic and air quality problems, and massive landscape scarring that would result from the 1,380-unit, 2,600-acre Fanita Ranch project.

“There is nothing in the city’s rubber-stamp approval of Fanita Ranch resembling the independent, objective review required by law,” said John Buse, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The project was jammed through the process with little regard for the environment — or public safety.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.

Preserve Wild Santee is a community environmental organization that has worked to protect and enhance Santee’s quality of life since 1994.

The Endangered Habitats League is devoted to sustainable land use planning in Southern California and to the preservation of its native species and the ecosystems upon which these species depend for their survival.

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