California Attorney General Xavier Becerra surprised developers, planners, and community activists when he came out against the county’s approval of the 23,000-acre Otay Ranch development, east of Chula Vista.
Surprised, because starting with former Governor Jerry Brown’s administration, and continuing with Governor Gavin Newsom’s, the state has slowly been chipping away at local municipality’s growth controls, in the name of helping the state’s housing crisis.
The state has forced cities into housing planning elements that require a mandated number of low-income units to be built each year – a mandate that is changing some community’s character by forcing condos or apartments into predominantly single-family residential neighborhoods. Offering of density bonuses to developers for including some low-cost housings in their plans is state mandated, overriding local cities long-term planning.
On March 17, Becerra filed motions on behalf of Californians to intervene in lawsuits challenging the County of San Diego’s approval and certification of the Environmental Impact Reports for Otay Ranch.
Specifically Becerra noted in the planned Otay Ranch Resort Village 13, Resort Village 14, and future planning areas 16 -19, that the project is “located in a very high fire hazard severity zone.”
“The Otay Ranch Village 13 project site has experienced numerous fires, including the October 2003 Mine/Otay Fire, which burned the entire project area and nearly 40,000 acres overall,” Becerra posted to media. In 2007, the Harris Fire burned 90,440 acres, including the majority of the Otay Ranch project site.
Becerra argued, of the undeveloped area, “The County of San Diego's EIRs repeatedly underplay the severity of the wildfire risk, concluding despite all scientific evidence to the contrary that the introduction of structures and people will not increase wildfire risks,” Becerra stated.
Located one mile east of Chula Vista’s city boundary in Eastlake, and 12 miles southwest of rural Jamul, Otay Ranch would be San Diego County’s largest development to date. In Otay Ranch’s area 13 and 14, around 3,000 homes are planned, along with the needed infrastructure of roads, schools, businesses, and public safety for thousands of new residents.
Attorney General Becerra stated he intervened because his action will ensure “the County of San Diego does all it can to mitigate the risks of the Otay Ranch projects before they are built.” The Attorney General claims he had a responsibility to enforce CEQA – the California Environmental Quality Act.
On the next day, March 18, Xavier Becerra was sworn in as President Biden’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services.