Most San Diegans agree that we need to find the right balance between protecting our environment and quality of life, on the one hand, and our economic future on the other hand. But as we’re seeing with Cisterra Development’s new project, finding that balance can be both complicated and controversial.
In August, the San Diego City Council gave Cisterra the green light to move forward with development of a 430,000-square-foot office complex, The Preserve at Torrey Highlands, which would border the Del Mar Mesa Preserve. Environmentalists, along with residents in the surrounding communities of Carmel Valley and Rancho Penasquitos, weren’t pleased. The 900-acre Del Mar Mesa Preserve is home to dozens of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals unique to San Diego, which is why the area is protected under the city’s Multiple Species Habitat Plan.
In September, a lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court challenging the city’s approval of The Preserve at Torrey Highlands. The lawsuit brought by Protect Our Preserves San Diego (POPs), which advocates for the protection of open space habitats, was necessary “after the City Council caved to special interests,” said POPs President Bob Glaser. Tommy Hough, co-founder of San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action, described the project as “Orwellian” and said that, whatever the project’s benefits, they don’t outweigh the harm this project will do to a natural habitat “that we should take exceptional pride in, and exceptional care to protect."
What remedy is POPs and its partners seeking? They insist that the issue should be decided by voters. The Torrey Highlands Sub Area IV Community Plan “was approved by a vote of the people and it must be amended by a vote of the people,” said Glaser. “The San Diego City Municipal Code clearly requires a zoning amendment of this magnitude to go before the voters.”
The POPs lawsuit, which was filed by prominent local attorney Cory Briggs, also argues that the environmental impact report, which was used by the City Council to justify its decision, was inadequate. Other opponents of the development include the Sierra Club, Friends of Rose Canyon, San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action, and the Rancho Penasquitos and Del Mar Mesa planning boards.
But there’s another side to this story. Cisterra contends that it took good-faith measures to protect the environment and made a number of accommodations, including agreeing to reduce the size of the complex and the height of a controversial parking garage. In addition, Cisterra has made a $485,000 commitment to fund restoration and enhancement activities within the Del Mar Mesa Preserve.
“We are confident,” said David Dick of Cisterra Development, “that The Preserve at Torrey Highlands will continue forward to deliver critically-needed office space to support San Diego’s innovation economy, while also protecting and enhancing the adjacent Del Mar Mesa Preserve.”
Among Cisterra’s supporters are the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and local leaders from the life sciences and technology industry.
Now that the lawsuit has been filed, what’s next?
“We are waiting for all the answers,” said POPs’ Bob Glaser. “The ‘administrative record’ is being prepared and we will move forward as soon as possible.”