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San Diego officials said rural homes were safe from fires. They were listening to developers

Courts say local officials have failed to fully analyze the wildfire risks of approved rural housing developments in San Diego County.
Credit: Zoë Meyers/inewsource
Homes in the Harmony Grove Village community in Escondido are shown on May 17, 2022.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — One by one, developers sold local government officials in recent years on the promise of adding thousands of much-needed homes to the San Diego region by placing them in the rural fringes of North and East County – including in areas where brush fires had recently burned down homes and clogged evacuation routes.

The environmental reviews, required by state law, repeatedly said they were safe. The projects got the ok from local fire officials and elected officials.

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But in at least six major developments, critics say, there was a problem. All of these reviews were done by consultants hired by the very developers who want to build the homes. In six lawsuits brought in the last four years, challengers suing to block the developments said the reviews were flawed and incomplete, distinguished by a failure to fully analyze how new housing would clog evacuation routes or lead to more fires.

Now, those challenges are increasingly gaining traction, notching incremental victories in court and reshaping how local officials review development in fire-prone areas. 

In February, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors adopted a new policy that county leaders say will limit new development in rural high fire risk areas.

A San Diego County spokesperson told inewsource the county is also considering overhauling how it does the reviews, including the county’s reliance on developers to study projects – but nothing has changed so far.

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In three recent cases, judges have ruled that local officials failed to fully analyze the wildfire risks of large-scale housing developments, resulting in those projects being blocked, some with more finality than others. 

To read the full story from inewsource, click here.

inewsource is a nonprofit, independently funded newsroom that produces impactful investigative and accountability journalism in San Diego County. Learn more at inewsource.org.

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