GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Adobe Falls and SDSU expansion

San Diego State University’s Master Plan foresees thousands of additional students and many more faculty members in the future and proposes to accommodate them in part through various building projects in various locations on property owned by the university.

One project proposed to construct up to 348 residential housing units for faculty and staff on a parcel of university property immediately adjacent to Del Cerro’s Adobe Falls Open Space area, located to the north of SDSU across Interstate 8 just west of College Avenue.

Legal challenges by the City of San Diego, Del Cerro Action Council, and other entities pertaining to the Master Plan’s Environmental Impact Report dragged on for years.

My coverage of this story initially began with a July 2009 post Alvarado Creek and the future of Adobe Falls. I later wrote a number of followup stories, which are listed at the bottom of this page.

The most prominent issue seemed to be whether SDSU is financially responsible for paying a fair share of mitigation called for in the Environmental Impact Report. SDSU insisted its responsibility was only to ask the state legislature for those funds, but if the state were to deny those funds, SDSU asserted it had no further responsibility. The City’s position was that SDSU is responsible for its fair share of expenses even if the legislature declined to provide special funding.

Another major issue was whether all environmental impacts on traffic and transit systems had been adequately addressed.

In February 2010, the trial court ruled in favor of SDSU and against the City:

  • Read the Feb 11, 2010 Statement of Decision here.
  • Read the Mar 26, 2010 signed Judgment here.

The City of San Diego and the Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Diego then initiated an appeals process with a Notice of Appeal on May 25, 2010. Del Cerro Action Council was unable to join in the appeal due to the expense.

After numerous hearings, on December 13, 2011, the Court of Appeal published its judgment. The Court agreed that CSU cannot assert that it only needed to make a request to the state legislature for funding to pay its fair share of mitigation expenses with no further responsibility regardless of the legislature’s decision. The Court also indicated that the amount of CSU’s fair share needed to be examined more closely.

Further, the Court agreed that CSU did not adequately address the ability of existing traffic and transit infrastructure to accommodate the increased number of students anticipated, what improvements might be needed, and what the environmental impact of those improvements would be.

The Court did side with CSU, however, on other more technical arguments that were made in the appeal (you can read the details in the judgment; there’s a link to it beneath the Disposition quoted below).

The Court’s Disposition states as follows:

“The judgment is reversed in part and affirmed in part, and the matter is remanded to the trial court with directions to enter a new judgment granting in part and denying in part the petitions for writs of mandate consistent with this opinion. The court shall issue a writ of mandate ordering CSU to void its certification of the FEIR and adoption of the Findings and to void its approval of the Project based on noncompliance with CEQA as set forth in this opinion. The trial court shall also issue an order that the Project may be considered for re-approval by CSU if a new, legally adequate EIR is prepared, circulated for public comment, and certified in compliance with CEQA consistent with the views expressed in this opinion. Appellants are awarded costs on appeal.”

So the issue now goes back to trial court and ultimately CSU will be permitted to prepare a new EIR for the Master Plan, if it so wishes. If CSU decides to do so, it could be years going through that process. Click here to read the entire judgment.



Below are listed stories, news reports, and notes I accumulated while following developments:

  • Jun 21, 2011: Legal challenge continues over SDSU’s Master Plan and Adobe Falls development / GrokSurf
  • Dec 3, 2010: City of San Diego files opening briefs in appeal of SDSU’s plan to develop Adobe Falls / GrokSurf
  • Jul 28, 2010: College housing will ruin the gorge / San Diego Reader
  • Jun 1, 2010: City files appeal in SDSU/Adobe Falls case / GrokSurf
  • May 25, 2010: California Rule of Court CRC 8.108 states the deadline for filing a notice of appeal is 60 days from date of mailing notice of entry of judgment, so the information I got from the Appeals Department yesterday was incorrect. The deadline is June 22. Also, I received word from the City Attorney’s office that they will probably file their notice of intent to appeal this week.
  • May 24, 2010: The deadline for filing a Notice of Appeal is now unclear…it is supposed to be 60 days following the signed judgment, but the court clerk tells me the signed judgment was March 26, while an attorney connected with the case indicated the deadline is actually based on the date a Notice of Entry of Judgment was served (April 22), so the deadline is either May 26, 2010 or June 22, 2010, depending on who is correct. I then spoke with Karen at the Appeals Department. She repeated that the court goes by the date of the judgment, which is March 26. In response to my question about the later Notice of Entry of Judgment date that the attorney referred to, she repeated that the court still goes by the date stamped on the judgment. She added that an appeal could still be filed based on that later date and it might be accepted, but that the appeals court could make an issue of the deadline and an argument would have to be made as to why the date of that notice should be accepted.
  • Apr 28, 2010: The City Council minutes for the Feb 22 meeting were released today, indicating a closed session discussion about this issue. “This matter is a challenge under the California Environmental Quality Act to the California State University Board of Trustees’ certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report for the San Diego State University Campus Master Plan Revision (2005 and 2007) and associated approvals. The City Attorney will update the Mayor and the City Council on the status of litigation and seek direction.” When I inquired, Councilperson Marti Emerald’s office refused to comment on this issue.
  • Apr 23, 2010: Today the court told me the Judgment was signed on March 26, so that’s when the 60-day count for the deadline to appeal began. If the City still plans to appeal (and I called Gina Coburn who said they are) the notice of appeal must be filed by May 26. The court also gave me a copy of the Judgment.
  • Apr 22, 2010: Checking with the court, I learned that an appeal has not been filed to date. Since I understood there is a 60-day deadline from the date of the decision for filing an appeal, I thought the deadline had been missed. However, the date of the decision is not where the countdown begins, according to Gina Coburn (City Attorney’s Office) responding to my email query. She continued “The parties submitted a Judgment for the Court’s signature a few weeks back, which we have not received. We have 60 days from the date of the signed Judgment to file a notice of appeal.”
  • Mar 4, 2010: In response to my question whether an appeal will be filed, Gina Coburn, Communications Director for the San Diego City Attorney’s office wrote me: “Given the pendency of litigation, we are limited by what we will comment on. We will point out, however, that the City and Redevelopment Agency will appeal the Court’s denial of our writ. The lawsuit only addressed SDSU’s Campus Master Plan Expansion, and did not address any other separate redevelopment projects in the area.” She added that her office will not comment on specifics of the appeal and that it cannot comment on what any other parties in the lawsuit might do
  • Mar 2, 2010: Judge signs final decision; SDSU expansion may proceed along Alvarado Creek and Del Cerro
  • Feb 4, 2010: Judge issues proposed decision on SDSU’s EIR challenges
  • Jul 30, 2009: Adobe Falls updates
  • July 26, 2009: Alvarado Creek and the future of Adobe Falls


Most of the still photos in the video also in this Flickr slideshow.