Three homeowners who sued the City of Santa Barbara for preventing them from rebuilding homes in Sycamore Canyon that were destroyed in the 2008 Tea Fire are entitled to monetary damages, according to a tentative decision by Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle.
In January, Anderle ruled that the homeowners — Luke Brost, and Ruben and Paula Barajas — could rebuild homes on their properties, which lie within what is known as the Conejo Road Landslide Area. A city ordinance, which has since been amended, barred any home construction in the zone due to safety concerns related to possible land and mudslides.
On Tuesday, Anderle is set to hold a hearing to determine when the issue of damages will go to trial.
In his tentative ruling, Anderle wrote that the three property owners “would have been permanently deprived of all use of their property” if they hadn’t sued the city to get the right to rebuild.
“There is little doubt that plaintiffs have suffered damage by some measure by this lengthy delay in being able to reconstruct and move back into their homes. In order to put them in the same position as if the taking had not occurred, they need to be compensated for the entirety of that period (from the 2008 fire to April 12, 2012),” he wrote.
City Attorney Steve Wiley said there isn’t enough evidence that the area is dangerous enough to prohibit new construction in case of a fire or other disaster, so the city amended its ordinance as a result of the civil court case. Now, homes can be rebuilt within the landslide area if they were lost during the November 2008 fire, or if existing homes are destroyed in any casualty afterward.
The court’s latest ruling means there will be a judge or jury trial to determine how much the city has to pay in damages, said Joseph Liebman, attorney for the three homeowners. Whatever the amount is decided at trial, it’s meant to compensate the homeowners for the years the ordinance prohibited them from rebuilding.
Following the court ruling and ordinance amendment, the homeowners said they weren’t sure whether they would rebuild or sell their properties.