No matter the ultimate fate of the falls, George Janczyn says that there’s been little citywide interest in the matter. He characterizes local media coverage as scant at the outset and nil by 2007. The general assumption, he notes, was that the falls would be preserved. (Indeed, when he contacted Councilmember Marti Emerald’s District Seven office in 2009, he was assured that the project was dead.) But master plans have a multitude of pathways to resurrection, including court-approved revision, and SDSU pressed on in its quest to civilize a parcel of land few San Diegans had ever inventoried as wild to begin with. Although the San Diego Superior Court was persuaded to set aside the original master plan, it allowed SDSU to present for judicial imprimatur its new and improved edition — the ’07. As the litigation wound through procedural oxbows, Janczyn embarked on an informational campaign, writing extensively about the proposed project on his blog, groksurf, setting out a timeline of developments. He also posted a slide show and numerous photographs of the falls.
On February 11, 2010, Judge Thomas Nugent, presiding in Vista (the litigants — objecting to the roster of available downtown judges — had moved the case up-county), approved the 2007 Master Plan. In pertinent part, Nugent ruled that SDSU’s revised plan had satisfied applicable requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and provisions regarding mitigation. After protracted procedural wrangling and copious outlays of attorneys’ fees (the Del Cerro group alone spent around $60,000), SDSU had won, at least temporarily, the right to put up a scaled-down version of its project with 172 units. As for the latest ruling, Janczyn says, “I have mixed feelings. Currently, no one really uses the falls because access is so difficult. But if the project goes through, the wildness will be lost. Right now, we have an unmaintained site. Ideally, I’d like to see a minimally maintained site with trail improvements, maybe a few places to sit, and parking for, say, about six cars.” However, according to Janczyn, the mere presence of the faculty/staff housing — even consisting of 172 units rather than 540 — would turn this patch of wild into a manicured scrap of mild. On the other hand, he muses, “With the state of the economy, it could be ten years or more before it’s built.”
No matter when the project is built, and regardless of its scale, San Diego State doesn’t want to fund mitigation. The university contends that its only obligation is to request funds from the State of California, a stipulation, says Janczyn, that is tantamount to nothing at all. On June 1, 2010, the City of San Diego, still fighting SDSU’s apparent attempts to evade paying for mitigation, filed an appeal to set aside approval of the 2007 Master Plan. The Del Cerro Action Council, however, has dropped out of the fight due to lack of money.
Given the logistical roadblocks to building at the falls — tortuous road access, grading nightmares, unavoidable environmental degradation — one might think that SDSU has a supportable reason for choosing the site, a reason it would elucidate. But when I called the university for comment, Greg Block, director of media relations and new media, refused to comment, sputtering, “We don’t talk to the Reader.”