Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle on Tuesday ruled against a coalition of environmental organizations that had filed a legal challenge to Santa Barbara County’s approval of a 71-home development proposal at Naples on the Gaviota Coast.
The county Board of Supervisors approved developer Matt Osgood’s Santa Barbara Ranch project in 2008, but the property was foreclosed on by First Bank in 2010 after Osgood defaulted on loan payments.
The land — on both sides of Highway 101 west of Goleta — was transferred to SBRHC Inc., a First Bank affiliate, and the holding company got the OK to transfer development agreements to a potential buyer.
The buyer, a Delaware limited liability company, didn’t go through with the deal, and another purchaser hasn’t yet been identified.
An attorney from the County Counsel’s office and attorneys represented the various interested parties all attended Tuesday’s court hearing.
The crux of the issue comes down to the project’s division into an inland portion and a coastal portion, covered by a single environmental impact report, and plaintiffs’ argument that last-minute changes weren’t included in the review.
The Environmental Defense Center, the Surfrider Foundation and the Naples Coalition sued the county, alleging the Board of Supervisors had violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the Coastal Act and planning and zoning laws.
They have asserted that the project should never have been given the go-ahead, and the area should be preserved, not developed.
Attorney Marc Chytilo said the project had “an October surprise” — with four times as much soil removal called for in a major revision. The impacts of this change weren’t analyzed in the environmental impact reports.
“The county cut corners and didn’t recirculate the EIR,” he argued.
Despite the favorable ruling for the project, the housing development will still face opposition.
It still has to go before the California Coastal Commission, which has to approve the coastal portion before the inland project can go forward, and the plaintiffs may appeal Tuesday’s ruling, EDC attorney Linda Krop said.
There is still the opportunity for all parties to work together, and the EDC hopes for a conservation buyer or someone willing to work with environmental groups, she added.
“Our resolve is only going to be strengthened by this decision,” said Sandy Lejeune, Santa Barbara Surfrider Foundation chairman. Surfrider has been working against Gaviota Coast development for 20 years, and has gathered 3,000 signatures in favor of preservation, he said.