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Judge upholds measure to curb smog

Ruling backs San Joaquin Valley rules requiring developers to take steps to reduce driving.

September 20, 2008|Margot Roosevelt | Times Staff Writer

California chalked up a victory in its long battle against sprawl-induced smog Friday.

A federal judge in Fresno upheld an ambitious regulation passed by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in 2005 that requires developers to minimize pollution by building near public transit, adding bicycle lanes or creating shopping areas designed for pedestrians. If they don't, they must pay a fee to fund emission reduction projects elsewhere.

The heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley, along with the Los Angeles area, suffers from some of the dirtiest air in the nation and a high rate of asthma and other respiratory diseases. The regulation, part of a comprehensive plan to meet federal Clean Air Act standards, was challenged by the National Assn. of Home Builders.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill ruled that the district had authority to enact the regulation.

Builders reacted angrily. "Single issue agencies such as the air board look for ways to grab local land use authority," said Jill Workman, a spokeswoman for the Building Industry Assn. Orange County. "Additional layers of bureaucracy will exacerbate the current housing and economic crisis."

Environmental groups applauded the ruling. "No special interest should have a free ride in a region where schools warn parents to keep children indoors on bad air days," said Paul Cort, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represented the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund in the case.

According to Kathryn Phillips of the Environmental Defense Fund, hundreds of California developers have already complied with the pollution-cutting rule.

"Its time for the trade associations to back off," Phillips said.

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margot.roosevelt@latimes.com

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