Protecting Rich Biological Resources in San Diego’s Backcountry
San Diego County has more biodiversity than any other county in North America and is among the top 10 biodiversity regions on earth. Given these extraordinary resources, a local environmental organization became alarmed when San Diego County proposed to rezone 200,000 acres of land in its rural “backcountry.” During the environmental review process, the County neglected to analyze the impacts that this massive rezoning program would have on the County’s sensitive habitats and wildlife. The agency also declined to adopt any mitigation, claiming that it would simply be too expensive. In ruling for the petitioners, the court rejected the County’s approach, reciting these lines from Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” The County was required to re-engage in the CEQA process and identify appropriate mitigation for the rezoning. This case illustrates the statute’s chief benefit: when the public and decision-makers are informed of environmental impacts, a better project will emerge.