Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 13, 2017

Contact:  Kevin Bundy, (510) 844-7113,
Nina Erlich-Williams, (510) 336-9566,

Despite Narrow Loss, Challenge to San Diego Transportation Plan Achieves Goal

Regional Officials Already Conducting Climate Analysis, Supreme Court Decision Leaves Challengers' Victory Otherwise Intact

SAN FRANCISCO— The California Supreme Court found in favor of the San Diego Association of Governments today on one narrow issue in its appeal regarding the environmental analysis of its 2011 regional transportation plan and sustainable communities strategy.

But today's limited ruling emphasizes that going forward, regional transportation planners across California must continue to improve their analysis of conflicts between sprawl development and poor public transportation and the state's efforts to fight climate change.

The court rejected arguments from several environmental and community groups, as well as the people of the state of California, that SANDAG's analysis of its plan's long-term climate impacts was inadequate. The plan, which governs transportation investments and development patterns through 2050 in the San Diego region, would have allowed regional climate pollution to increase through mid-century, contrary to the statewide goal of reducing emissions dramatically over the same time period. Justice Cuellar dissented, concluding that SANDAG's 2011 analysis fell short of fully addressing this conflict.

Although the court majority concluded that SANDAG's cursory analysis was adequate given what the agency knew in 2011, it emphasized that future environmental analyses of similar plans must address the state's long-term climate objectives in greater detail as California's climate efforts evolve. Indeed, in response to the litigation, SANDAG and other agencies are already beginning to conduct the type of long-term analysis sought by the plaintiffs.

“We disagree with the court's narrow ruling, but this decision will clearly push transportation planners to better evaluate the massive greenhouse pollution generated by decades of sprawl development and neglect of public transit,” said Kevin Bundy, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “California has set itself up as a leader in the fight against climate change, and the court's ruling underscores that agencies like SANDAG have to step up and do their part going forward. Ensuring that transportation and development advance the state's long-term, science-based emissions reduction goals is essential.”

“San Diego residents deserve a future with increased transit, bike and walk commutes, clean air and water, and protected open space. At its core, that's what this lawsuit was about,” said Jana Clark, Cleveland National Forest Foundation board member. “Regardless of today's narrow ruling from the California Supreme Court, our lawsuit against SANDAG has been a major victory for the health and quality of life of all San Diegans because it has initiated a changed SANDAG.”

The plaintiffs and attorney general challenged the plan's environmental document on a variety of other grounds related to climate change, destruction of agricultural resources and environmental justice. The Supreme Court's focused review did not affect the bulk of a December 2014 decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal finding SANDAG's environmental analysis inadequate on these other grounds.

For example, the appeals court held that SANDAG failed to analyze mitigation and alternatives that could significantly reduce emissions and total vehicle miles traveled in the region such as by prioritizing transit. It also faulted the agency for failing to provide more concrete measures to reduce the project's asthma- and cancer-causing local air-quality and climate impacts.

Cleveland National Forest Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego County and CREED-21 filed lawsuits challenging the environmental review of SANDAG's plan in November 2011. The people of the state of California, represented by the attorney general, intervened on the plaintiffs' behalf in January 2012. Both the San Diego Superior Court and 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and the state. The Supreme Court's decision addressed only one of numerous issues in the case, leaving the appellate decision in the plaintiffs' favor largely undisturbed.

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation ( is made up of private citizens who believe that action must be taken to protect the remaining undeveloped lands in the forest and that sound regional planning to build sustainable, quality urban communities is fundamental to saving the integrity of our wilderness areas.

The Center for Biological Diversity ( is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Sierra Club California ( represents the Club's 13 local chapters and 160,000 statewide members and advocates to protect California's natural resources and to improve the health and safety of Californians.

The Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego County is a leading advocate for increasing meaningful opportunities for affordable housing consistent with principles of environmental justice.

CREED-21 advocates on behalf of the underserved community for environmental justice.

Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP (, whose attorneys are lead plaintiffs' counsel in the case, specializes in government, land use, natural resource and environmental law. Since 1980, the firm has provided representation to public agencies and community groups throughout California.

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