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Council rejects environmental report for La Jolla Children’s Pool dredging

San Diego City Council members voted 7-1 on Tuesday, with First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner dissenting, not to certify a final impact report for sand dredging of La Jolla’s Children’s Pool.

The council also denied coastal development and site development permits for the project.

Sixth District Councilwoman Donna Frye made the motion to reject the Pool’s final environmental impact report along with its two site development permits, overriding city staff’s recommendation for approval on all three.

“My motion is not to certify the EIR, and to direct staff to return and work with the Army Corps of Engineers in order to prepare a joint document while litigation is moving forward,” said Frye.

The Army Corps, which has environmental authority over all dredging projects in the country, has filed a letter of objection with the city of San Diego over how it has handled the environmental review process for Children’s Pool, separating federal and state reviews instead of combining them.

“For me, the failure to have that joint document prepared does not allow me as a legislative member of the City Council to actually look at the proposal and to actually have all the analysis for the direct/indirect cumulative impacts,” said Frye.

In opposing Frye’s motion, Lightner said: “I actually was quite pleased with the results of the EIR and will not be able to support the motion in that I already have a recommendation from my community planning group.”

On Sept. 3, the La Jolla Community Planning Association voted 12-1 that the findings for the permits for Children’s Pool could be made.

At the council meeting, Lightner noted that the group opted not to vote on supprting certification of the final environmental report for the pool because she said the group felt the approval process for the document was being rushed.

Kari Coler, project manager at the Corps’ South Coast Branch Regulatory Division had raised objections to the report in a letter to the city.

“We are concerned with the lack of integration of the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) processes,” she wrote. “By not preparing a joint document, the Corps will need to independently explore and evaluate all reasonable alternatives to the proposed action (which may differ from those in the EIR) ... We encourage the city to reconsider its decision to prepare and to finalize a separate EIR and pursue a joint document with the Corps ...”

Reacting to the Corps’ letter, Cecilia Gallardo of the city’s Development Services Department said before the council meeting: “Our response is that the city was well into the process of preparing an environmental impact report per the judge’s order when the issue was raised by the Army Corps. We needed to meet some key milestones for preparation of the document and put it out for public review. It was really just a timing thing from our point of view as to whether they should have been done jointly or separately.”

In making her motion, Frye said she believed the Children’s Pool’s final report was inadequate, which is why it can’t be certified at this time.

Among other things, she said that, in its present form, it doesn’t address the potential of the pool being turned into a marine mammal park as spelled out in SB428, signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger recently. The law is to take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

The council did not vote on a plan to dredge sand from the pool since members did not certify the final EIR, which is a precursor to the project. Sand dredging calls for excavation of approximately3,000 cubic yards of sand from Children’s Pool to be relocated to a pocket beach, South Casa Beach, just south of it.