Friday, November 16 , 2018, 10:46 am | Fair 67º

 
 
 
 

Ruling Clears the Way for Santa Barbara Homeowners to Rebuild in Conejo Landslide Area

Judge sides with residents who lost their homes in the Tea Fire, despite city attorneys calling the area unpredictable

Three Santa Barbara residents who lost their homes in the Tea Fire may finally have the chance to rebuild — more than three years later.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle ruled Monday that the City of Santa Barbara can’t prevent Ruben and Pamela Barajas and Luke Brost from rebuilding their homes in Sycamore Canyon even though their parcels are located in the slow-moving Conejo Landslide Area.

“You can’t fight City Hall? I guess you can,” Pamela Barajas said after Anderle issued his decision.

Brost and the Barajases are among at least nine homeowners who were stalled by city staff from rebuilding because of the Conejo Landslide Ordinance, which dates back to 1984 and prohibits any new construction in the active landslide area.

Six homeowners were allowed to rebuild — the other three were not — after the Santa Barbara City Council voted in June 2010 to amend the recognized boundaries of the landslide area.

“What I feel is they put us up against the wall,” Ruben Barajas said. “We had no choice.”

Santa Barbara city attorneys Steve Wiley and Tom Shapiro spent Monday trying to characterize the landslide area as unpredictable and dangerous, not only to homeowners but first responders.

“The danger would be in them trying to access the property,” said Frank Kenton, a contracted geology and engineering expert for the city.

Wiley attempted to connect photos of pavement scarred with deep cracks and parts of the sinking nearby hillside to the risks of broken utility connections and unstable structures.

The homeowners’ attorney, Joseph Liebman, hammered Kenton about the likelihood of a catastrophic, deadly event such as the La Conchita landslide in the area of his clients’ homes, referred to as Slide Mass C. Kenton said no one can predict whether such an event would happen in the next 50 years.

“At best there remains uncertainty with respect to the stability of the geology in Slide Mass C,” Anderle wrote in his decision. “’Uncertainty’ is not a sufficient basis for depriving a property owner of a home.”

Despite Wiley’s insistence that the landslide ordinance was clear about no reconstruction, Anderle said it should have specified that no building would be allowed even after a forest fire or major landslide.

The city is now required to exempt the plaintiffs’ addresses from the ordinance, repeal the ordinance or litigate compensation for the delayed cost of construction and the fair market value for the properties, Liebman said.

The Barajases and Brost said they’re still not sure whether they want to rebuild or sell their properties.

“I feel like I fell asleep and woke up,” Pamela Barajas said after the decision.

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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