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Urban Wildlands
San Diego Union-Tribune, February 14, 2009

City told to revise fire plan for project
Groups had sued over Fanita Ranch
By Michele Clock

The city of Santee cannot issue permits to develop homes at Fanita Ranch until it more thoroughly analyzes the project's potential fire danger, a San Diego Superior Court judge has found.

City officials have six months to revise their fire-safety plan for the nearly 1,400-home project, according to a three-page order signed by Judge Linda B. Quinn last week.

In the meantime, the project will be on hold, though Carlsbad-based developer Barratt American said the economy is a major contributor to the delay.

Quinn issued her order in response to a lawsuit filed against the city last year by a band of environmental groups. Preserve Wild Santee, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Endangered Habitats League claimed the city violated state environmental law by failing to adequately spell out and analyze Fanita Ranch's environmental effects. They aimed to cancel the city's December 2007 approval of the project and the accompanying environmental review and halt all activity until a more thorough analysis could be done.

The order asks the city to reconsider whether fire safety is adequate without the use of controlled burns and grazing.

Santee City Attorney Shawn Hagerty said the city doesn't use prescribed burns as a general policy. Hagerty said the city takes fire safety seriously and that it, too, wants to resolve those concerns before issuing permits.

Hagerty said city officials will look into either providing the judge with more evidence that the fire-safety measures are adequate or make changes to the fire-safety plan.

He said the city was pleased the judge didn't overturn the project approval or the environmental review as a whole.

“We haven't rolled back to square one,” Hagerty said. “We're 99 percent of the way there. We just have to address this particular issue.”

John Buse, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the plaintiffs will monitor closely what actions the city takes.

“We have to see what the city comes up with in terms of a fix to the problem with the fire plan, and depending on what that is, we may still have issues,” Buse said.

Barratt American president Mick Pattinson said his company probably wouldn't be able to start the project yet anyway because of the poor economy. The company filed for bankruptcy reorganization in December but excluded the Santee project.

“The market is in its worst condition since the Great Depression,” Pattinson said. “So there's no hurry for anybody to start the project... The fact that litigation comes now is not an impediment to the progress of the project.”

© Copyright 1995-2009 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton