Critics of the proposed Regents Road Bridge in University City planned to file a lawsuit Wednesday morning against the city of San Diego, claiming that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act by fully designing the bridge before completing state-mandated environmental review.
The suit says the city 'turns state environmental law on its head' by prematurely allocating enough money to design all aspects of the bridge, which city officials want to link Regents Road over Rose Canyon.
'The city has once again violated state environmental law by putting the cart before the horse,' said Deborah Knight of Friends of Rose Canyon. 'You can't proceed with a project and promise to do environmental review later.'
The group wants to stop the project. It contends that building the bridge will devastate one of the city's most valuable remaining slices of open spaces. Bridge proponents say it will ease traffic congestion on Genesee Road and improve emergency access for firefighters.
City Council President Scott Peters, a proponent of the bridge whose district includes the canyon, could not be immediately reached for comment.
In 2005, the city hired Project Design Consultants (PDC) to conduct an environmental study of several different options for easing traffic congestion in the University City area. PDC recommended the bridge option, and the City Council initiated an effort to build it in August 2006.
Friends of Rose Canyon promptly sued the city, claiming that the environmental impact report the City Council certified as part of the project was deeply flawed, and, they contended, the company that selected the bridge option also knew it was in line to get the bridge construction contract if it won. The city conceded before a judge could reach an opinion. In March the City Council voluntarily tossed several key elements out of the study and agreed to do them again. In November, a judge ordered the city to pay some $450,000 to the bridge opponents' attorneys, Rachel Hooper of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger and Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group.
But in the meantime, the City Council pledged some $4.6 million to Project Design Consultants—the same group that did the flawed study—to do a complete design of the bridge. The argument was that the environmental review could not be completed without designing the bridge.
In the new lawsuit, the plaintiffs say that only a rudimentary design is needed to do a study, typically costing only 15 percent of the project's estimated price tag. The lawsuit asks the court to void the city's contract with PDC, order a stop to any work on the bridge before a new review is performed and compel the city to pay attorney and court fees resulting from the suit.
'There's a real possibility it will never be built,' Knight said. 'It faces huge environmental hurdles. Putting millions of dollars into designing a bridge when you have no study, well, it's a huge risk of public funds.'