Request for Community Action: Save Mission Trails requests that you step-up your letters and attend 2 Key Meetings, July 19 - 9 AM & 1 PM (click for details)

SPECIAL REPORT:

Community and environmental protection group members numbering nearly 200 packed the San Diego Planning Commission chambers to oppose initiation of a community plan amendment and rezoning of open space to industrial during a five-hour hearing held on Thursday, June 28, 2012.

Power plant applicant, Cogentrix, LLC, a subsidiary of the banking giant Goldman Sachs, initiated a process with the California Energy Commission in August 2011 to license a 100 MW plant that would require eleven 100 foot tall smokestacks on lands that have been designated open space in an area called the East Elliot Community Plan, which is north of Mission Trails Regional Park and adjacent to the park’s expansion area.

Members of Save Mission Trials, Sierra Club, Environmental Health Coalition, Audubon Society and others presented relevant and significant testimony during the five-hour hearing. Electrical engineer and expert witness, Bill Powers, testified as to why the power plant is not necessary to meet San Diego’s energy needs. Several key speakers included, Santee Councilmember John Minto and Santee city staff who urged the Commissioners to consider rejecting the initiation based on the three criteria in order to send a clear message to their Staff, the CEC, and the Applicant that areas designated for permanent protection as open space for recreational and esthetic purposes will be safeguarded. Other speakers urged the Commissioners to reject the purported need for the power plant, since its purpose of providing peak power on very hot days could be better met by an expansion of local solar generation on home and business rooftops in the same amount of time as it would take for this power plant to be operational .

A rejection of the initiation would provide the applicant an opportunity to appeal before the City Council, where it is rightful for a fitting review to take place.

A strong message to city staff is suggested, as there is supposed to be a mechanism for preventing applications that do not make sense from going through to the Planning Commission based on three criteria. This initiation request was clearly in violation of the first two criteria: consistency with the General plan and public benefit. Since the issue of energy need is the responsibility of the CPUC, the city Staff has no authority to assert energy needs, nor to recommend approval of the initiation overall, since their evidence was in blatant contradiction to the criteria.

A majority of Commissioners present agreed with power plant opponents that evidence to meet the criteria necessary to initiate a process leading to such a radical change in land use was absent or seriously questionable. New Commissioner, Susan Peerson, expressed concerns that this kind of non-conforming use would be a foothold for other incompatible industrial uses in an area to be set aside for permanent open space preservation. Planning Commissioner Stephen Haase, in making the motion to deny the initiation, voiced concerns about the state preempting the City’s local land use review authority. He concluded that with the state in control of the schedule for power plant licensing and environmental review, San Diego City Council needs to look at this issue earlier in the process. That review could happen if the Planning Commissioners deny initiation of the plan amendment and the applicant appeals the denial to the City Council.

San Diego Planning Commissioners are to be applauded for their diligence. The issue is simple: The criteria were NOT met to approve an initiation to amend. Three of the five Commissioners present (panel of 7, 2 were absent), including Chairman Eric Naslund, supported the motion to not initiate the amendment. Since the rules of the Commission require four votes to pass, the matter was trailed to a July 19 meeting.

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