Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Judge Invalidates Water District Annexation of Gaviota Coast Lots


From: Santa Barbara Chapter Surfrider Foundation
Date: April 14, 2009
Press contact:  Ken Palley (805) 967-9938 and Ellison Folk, legal counsel, (415) 269-6699, Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation 
Mike Lunsford (805) 967-5828 and Marc Chytilo, legal counsel, (805) 682-0585, Gaviota Coast Conservancy

 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Judge Invalidates Water District Annexation of Gaviota 
Coast Lots


A lawsuit filed by the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Surfrider Foundation resulted today in a decision invalidating a 2008 action by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) annexing prime Gaviota Coast parcels into the Goleta Water District.  Without water service, development of the lots 
is more challenging. 

“This is a second significant ruling in two weeks for the Gaviota Coast” explained Gaviota Coast Conservancy President Mike Lunsford.  “The laws and policies protecting the Gaviota Coast, mean very little if they are not followed by local decision makers.  This decision restores reason and fair play in the permitting process, and puts Orange County developers on notice that this community will not stand by and allow them to play fast and loose with the Gaviota Coast.”

Ms. Ellison Folk, lead attorney for the legal team, stated “This decision required analysis of a complex legal and factual setting, but reached the core issues regarding whether the developer, GWD and LAFCO could rely on the incomplete 1998 annexation for a golf course to provide water service for a completely different residential project ten years later.  The Court recognized that the new residential project needed a new application for annexation and could not rely on the ten year old incomplete golf course project.” 

Attorney Marc Chytilo explained: “This case has a long and convoluted history.”  The two environmental groups first challenged an attempt by the Goleta Water District to annex the parcels in 2007, since the District didn’t comply with CEQA by preparing an EIR.  To avoid a losing lawsuit, GWD withdrew that project, then arranged to reactivate the 1998 golf course annexation, bypassing CEQA.  But the 1998 annexation had never been finalized, as all parties had agreed at that time to merge 25 Naples antiquated lots as a required element of the project, but the merger never happened.  The golf course project received full approval from the County and Coastal Commission, but then was stopped when red-legged frogs were discovered on the site.  The developer sued the Coastal Commission, who entered into a tolling agreement that contemplated 10 houses on the 25 Naples lots, in addition to two other large agricultural lots with mansions.  Only one of these lots had water service, so the developer had to apply to the GWD to annex the rest of the lots to get water service. 

In 1998 the planned water service was to be almost exclusively reclaimed water for the golf course, and the developer paid GWD $4.5 million for the District to expand its reclaimed water facilities.  When the golf course was stopped, the developer shifted and pursued the residential project that requires all potable water.  The developer demanded that the GWD help them with the annexation, or else would demand return of the $4.5 million, even though the money had been spent for infrastructure to deliver reclaimed water for the golf course.  In 2008, GWD convinced LAFCO to use the 1998 incomplete annexation as a means to get water for residential development. 

Chytilo continued: “Surfrider and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy fought these efforts through a series of lawsuits, and today prevailed.  The judge ruled that there had been no annexation, and a new application would have to be filed for Makar’s residential development.”  Makar has a development application pending before Santa Barbara County to develop two massive, luxury residential compounds.  They also own 25 antiquated “Naples” lots totaling 57 acres that are zoned agricultural.  These lots are similar to the lots owned by another Orange County developer, Matt Osgood and known as Santa Barbara Ranch.  But now they have no water and face growing community hostility to oversized mansions on the Gaviota Coast’s prime agricultural lands.  With new board members on the Goleta Water District Board of Directors, at LAFCO and at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, the Makar residential project faces an uncertain future.   

About The Surfrider Foundation:

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.  The Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has been deeply involved in efforts to preserve the Gaviota coast for more than ten years.  The Chapter fought the “ARCO Golf Course” project successfully before turning to save that very same property from residential development at the hand of the Orange County-based Makar properties.  For more information see:  www.sbsurfrider.org <
http://www.sbsurfrider.org> . 

About The Gaviota Coast Conservancy:

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a private, non-profit organization that promotes the permanent protection of the Gaviota Coast's unique natural, scenic, agricultural, recreational, and cultural resources.  GCC monitors all significant development on the Gaviota Coast, acting as a watchdog, reviewing EIRs, submitting comments, and filing appeals where necessary.  Working through partnerships with other land conservation organizations, local landowners, resource agencies, and government entities, the Conservancy is promoting long-term strategies to protect the Gaviota Coast from the rapid urban expansion that threatens this region.  For more information, visit www.gaviotacoastconservancy.org <
http://www.gaviotacoastconservancy.org> . 

--  ##  --

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Photo Tour of the Gaviota Coast

Click HERE for a wonderful slide show of the Gaviota Coast presented by Mike Lunsford, GCC president, on November 12, 1999, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The tour starts at the west end of Goleta and moves up the coast. Many people have not seen much of this coast except from the Freeway at 65 miles per hour. These 35 pictures show you more, including areas where public access is restricted. Be patient, the pictures are worth your time. 

Posted on the Gaviota Coast Conservancy website.   Thank you, and ENJOY!

Where is Naples?

This map will help you understand where one of the major developments (Naples) is located.

Save Gaviota - No Development South of Hwy 101

The Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County, California, lies between Coal Oil Point in Goleta and Point Sal near Lompoc, and includes the coastal watersheds from the top of the ridge to the ocean.  The coastal Mediterranean ecosystems of the world are among the world's most threatened environments. The Gaviota Coast is the largest intact remnant of such an environment in the United States.  The Southern California Coastal Province (Pt. Conception to Mexico) contains the highest density of imperiled species of anywhere in the United States.

While the Gaviota Coast represents only fifteen percent of the 300-mile Southern California coastline, it contains about fifty percent of its remaining rural coastline. Even though most of the Southern California coastal areas have been dramatically altered and biologically degraded by expanding human occupation, the Gaviota Coast retains a high degree of biodiversity.  This is true because of three key factors:

  1. Natural and agricultural landscapes still prevail;
  2. The area is a transition zone between two distinct eco-regions;
  3. The Santa Ynez Mountains serve as an effective wildlife migration corridor from large interior wildlands.

The marine ecosystem of the Santa Barbara Channel is also a mixing zone between the northern and southern marine biota, due to dominant current patterns.  The ocean current patterns in the Channel connect the mainland watersheds with the offshore marine ecosystem, including the Channel Islands and the Marine Sanctuary.

The Gaviota Coast faces an increasing threat from development.  There are numerous development projects being planned, the most significant of which would permit 72 luxury homes – some as large as 13,000 square feet – on the property known as Naples, an antiquated subdivision located just two miles west of the urban limit line in Goleta.  The development would occur on and amidst land currently zoned for agriculture with a minimum lot size of 100 acres, parcels on which the average home size is 4,000 – 5,000 square feet.

Since its inception in 1992, Surfrider Foundation’s Santa Barbara Chapter has been a leader in local efforts to halt and/or limit further development of the Gaviota Coast.  SB chapter members co-founded the Gaviota Coast Conservancy in 1991, initiated a letter-writing campaign opposing the building of a hotel on Haskell’s Beach, and successfully blocked ARCO from its bid to build a golf course on the parcel that adjoins Naples to the east.  The chapter has spent years attempting to negotiate the preservation of this land in perpetuity with the new owners of this parcel, the Makar Development Corporation.   Surfrider Santa Barbara is currently a co-plaintiff, with the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, in a lawsuit challenging the illegal annexation of the Makar property to the Goleta Water District.  Annexation would provide Makar the water it needs to develop its parcels.

The Santa Barbara Chapter is a member of the Naples Coalition, a group of local environmental organizations (Audubon Society, Citizen’s Planning Association, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, and the Santa Barbara Community Action Network) that since 2000 has been working to ensure there is no development south of Highway 101, and to move all development at the adjacent property, Naples, to an inland portion out of the viewshed.  The long-term goal is to protect the Gaviota coastline from any future development.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bacara Scoping Hearing Draws Public Criticism

Foes of Haskell's Beach project express concerns over extent of required General Plan policy changes

Voicing concern over what one speaker called a “total reversal to the usual, acceptable planning process,” members of the public met with Goleta officials to air their grievances about policies involving Bacara Resort & Spa’s latest project. The hotel would like to see 55 condominiums along Haskell’s Beach, and a scoping hearing was held Thursday evening in council chambers to gather public input on the policy changes the project would require. The purpose of the hearing was not to discuss the project, but the guidelines governing it. Because the proposal would require 12 General Plan amendments, the city is collecting public comment and will be shaping a scope of services for an environmental impact report work to be undertaken.

That scope of services report will be brought before the City Council, which will decide whether to initiate a contract to prepare the EIR, said Steve Chase, planning and environmental services director. Goleta is also in draft stages with a concurrent EIR for the city’s track-three General Plan amendments, and a final version will be ready in a couple of months.

Connie Hannah, representing the League of Women Voters, took issue with the Bacara project requesting amendments while final environmental review for the track-three amendments remained to be seen.

“The project should not even be considered until the track-three amendments have been properly analyzed,” said Hannah, who added that the changes would not be project specific and would apply citywide.

Hannah also said the buildings would interfere with the public’s use of Haskell’s Beach.

Michael Lunsford of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy took issue with a large resort requesting changes to city policy.

“The question is, ‘Would this kind of treatment be given to me or any other homeowner in the city of Goleta?’” he asked. “It’s been my experience that you don’t get past the planning desk until you’re consistent. And yet, in this case, we have a massive change.

“I’m afraid that what you’re doing is setting yourself up for a constitutional issue of equal treatment,” he said. “The rooms that are being anticipated are larger than my remodeled house. I suspect that is consistent with most people who live in Goleta.”

Brian Trautwein, speaking for the Environmental Defense Center, discussed the location’s environmentally sensitive habitat areas, or ESHAs. The General Plan designates that the area where the condos would be built is such a habitat, but efforts are under way to change that designation, he said.

“That’s significant, because under the Coastal Act, you can’t build on an environmentally sensitive habitat area,” he said, adding that even if the city were to change the ESHA in the General Plan, the Coastal Act has jurisdiction over this project.

Meanwhile, one speaker drew attention to the presence of prehistoric Chumash archaeological sites. Frank Arredondo described himself as one of about eight people who can trace their genealogy to prehistoric Chumash, and he challenged the city to conduct consultations with the tribe.

“This project is very important to me,” he said.

Arredondo said he’s placed calls to Bacara, saying he was an interested Native American party, but that he has yet to receive a response.

Members of the public who missed the scope hearing may submit written comments to City Hall until 5:30 p.m. April 16.

Once staff has analyzed the environmental report, Chase said the city would bring that document through the Planning Commission process to the council.

“I don’t want to prejudge that outcome,” he said. Public hearings before the council and planning commission will help determine the adequacy of that document, and also whether the General Plan will require modification.

“We get the whole issue of cart before the horse,” he said. “And we struggle with that ourselves. But this is a public planning process and we have an obligation, under due process, to guide it carefully and judiciously.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com.