Appeals court reverses Save Desert Rose’s victory

Appeals court reverses Save Desert Rose’s victory
The State Court of Appeal reverses a lower court's decision on Wednesday to require Encinitas and the developer of a so-called "density bonus" project in Olivenhain to conduct a more stringent environmental study. File photo

ENCINITAS — The State Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court’s decision to require Encinitas and the developer of a so-called “density bonus” project in Olivenhain to conduct a more stringent environmental study.

In 2014, Judge Judith Hayes ruled in favor of the group Save Desert Rose’s lawsuit against Encinitas and Woodbridge Farms Estates, which is seeking to build a 16-home subdivision on 6-acres off of Desert Rose Way in Olivenhain.

Wednesday’s 3-0 decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal has left opponents of the project stunned, as they believed the lower court’s decision would be affirmed.

“We are shocked and very disappointed,” said Bill Butler, a co-founder of Save Desert Rose. “Right now, we are working with our attorney to determine the next step, but there is no doubt: this was stunning.”

Project opponents have argued the project would create traffic problems, hurt a nearby wetland and harm trees in the area. After the city approved the project and the companion environmental report in 2013, Save Desert Rose filed a lawsuit to compel an environmental report.

According to the 37-page decision, the three-judge panel of Joan Irion, Terry O’Rourke and James A. McIntyre ruled that Save Desert Rose failed to prove that the project would cause the environmental woes they argued would occur if an environmental impact report — which is more stringent than a mitigated negative declaration — was not ordered.

Woodbridge Farms Estates is represented by well-known Encinitas environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez, who in a news release referred to the court’s decision as a “vindication for the environment and affordable housing.”

“Contrary to the allegations of neighboring residents, this is one of those development projects that will actually result in significant improvement to the environment,” Gonzalez said. “Given the environmental enhancements and the affordable housing being provided, this is not a circumstance where an EIR should have been required. We are very happy the Appellate Court got it right.”

Gonzalez said the decision could pave the way for Woodbridge to begin construction on the project if Save Desert Rose does not appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court.

Everett DeLano is the attorney representing Save Desert Rose. He echoed his clients’ sentiments, and said it is too early to say whether they will seek review by the State Supreme Court. DeLano said the appeal hearing, which occurred last month, was unique in that the appellate panel did not ask questions of either Gonzalez or himself after their respective presentations.

“We thought that Judge Hayes got it correct, and the panel decides to completely reverse her on everything,” DeLano said. “I respect the judicial process, but this is very disappointing.”

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