City in San Diego County ordered to undo approval of 3,000-home project

A judge has ordered the Santee City Council to rescind its approval of the Fanita Ranch housing project.
A judge has ordered the Santee City Council to rescind its approval of the Fanita Ranch housing project.
(Karen Pearlman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A California judge has ordered the city of Santee to throw out approval of its long-planned Fanita Ranch housing project, ruling that developers hadn’t adequately considered how new homes could affect wildfire evacuations.

Eight resolutions and ordinances giving the green light to around 3,000 homes in the hills beyond Santee Lakes must be overturned, San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal recently wrote.

The move was the latest roadblock for a project first proposed decades ago and approved in late 2020 by the Santee City Council in a 4-1 vote. The lone dissenter, Councilman Stephen Houlahan, is no longer in office.


Economic downturns and community opposition have derailed momentum in the past, and the judge had previously said the plan didn’t fully address whether thousands of new residents would have time to flee during an emergency.

The project, overseen by HomeFed Fanita Rancho is not dead, and one of the developers said they would revise their environmental impact report to address the judge’s concerns.

A court has ruled that Lake County failed to properly analyze how a Guenoc Valley development would affect evacuation routes in times of wildfire.

Jan. 10, 2022

Jeff O’Connor, vice president of the Carlsbad-based HomeFed Corp., said the rewrite would likely take about three months. The public would then have 45 days to weigh in before officials could re-approve the project, he said.

“We’re very hopeful and confident that the city council will do that,” O’Connor said in an interview.

It was not immediately clear when the council might respond to the ruling. The next public meeting is Wednesday, though the agenda does not mention Fanita Ranch.

Messages left with the city’s manager and attorney were not immediately returned.

Fanita Ranch locator map

The decision was celebrated by environmental groups that sued to stop the project, arguing that more homes would only increase the risk of fire.

The project’s environmental report in particular was “inadequate and misleading,” Peter Broderick, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview.

Broderick’s group, along with the local organization Preserve Wild Santee and two other nonprofits, the Endangered Habitats League and the California Chaparral Institute, are also “entitled to recover costs in an amount to be determined,” the judge wrote.


Bacal’s ruling was dated March 25 and filed April 6.