For Immediate Release, November 4, 2013

Contact:   John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity (323) 533-4416
Van Collinsworth, Preserve Wild Santee (619) 258-7929
Rick Halsey, California Chaparral Institute (760) 822-0029

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Wildlife, Reduce Fire Risk From San Diego Sprawl

SAN DIEGO, Calif.— Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging the city of San Diego’s approval of a dense and sprawling subdivision on the city’s outskirts. The Castlerock project would build 430 homes on undeveloped land between the city of Santee, the Sycamore Canyon Landfill and Mission Trails Regional Park. It would destroy wetlands and streams, grade steep slopes, and subject new and existing residents to significantly higher fire risks. The lawsuit, filed by Preserve Wild Santee, the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Chaparral Institute, seeks to protect the site and adjoining areas from the environmentally damaging effects of the Castlerock development.

The lawsuit follows a 2006 federal court ruling that invalidated parts of San Diego’s “multiple species conservation program,” an ambitious plan allowing developers in southwestern San Diego County to harm endangered wildlife and plants in exchange for establishing habitat preserves.

“San Diego has had seven years to fix the broken parts of its conservation program, including its poor protection of vernal pools and insufficient funding,” said John Buse, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need smarter planning and more protection for people and wildlife, not more mindless sprawl.”

Vernal pools are small seasonal wetlands that support animals and plants uniquely adapted to an environment that may dry up for months or years at a time, including the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp. San Diego has lost about 98 percent of its vernal pools, and the trend of inadequate protection of seasonal wetlands continues with the Castlerock project.

The project would place 430 new dwellings in a state-classified “very high fire hazard severity zone” while relying on the increasingly gridlocked Mast Boulevard for evacuation.

“Profit motives would site dense development in a very high fire risk area without adequate consideration of fire-vulnerable topography and the need for safe evacuation routes from Santa Ana wind-driven fires in site design,” said Van Collinsworth, Preserve Wild Santee's executive director. “Our lawsuit is intended to reduce the project’s risk to public safety and the environment.”

The project would grade steep slopes protected by San Diego’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance, and fill portions of Quail Canyon Creek and wetlands occupied by San Diego fairy shrimp.

“Grading wetlands and steep slopes will not only degrade regionally valuable habitat and views, but will allow the placement of homes within a known fire corridor -- it should not be tolerated when law and policy prohibit it,” said Rick Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute. 

The automobile-centric sprawl development located far from San Diego services also fails to reflect numerous smart growth policies in San Diego’s “City of Villages” general plan. San Diego anticipates that after the Castlerock project is built, it would become part of the city of Santee, but annexation will not alleviate the project’s increased burdens on existing municipal services.

The groups are represented by the Center for Biological Diversity and San Diego attorney Kevin Johnson.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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