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Local News

Supervisors Set Special Hearing on Santa Barbara Ranch Project

The board plans a full day of testimony and deliberations Monday in considering the proposal.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will hold a special hearing Monday to consider the proposed plans for Santa Barbara Ranch, the next step in the development’s long march to fruition.

The county will take into consideration developer Matt Osgood’s proposed Alt 1B project, which would place 71 luxury homes on property that encompasses the historic coastal Naples townsite as well as a portion of the adjacent Dos Pueblos Ranch, up into the foothills.

The Santa Barbara Ranch project is a years-long effort by Osgood to create an upscale enclave on mostly agricultural land two miles west of the Goleta city limits. Through the use of a 1995 legally recognized map of the Naples townsite based on a century-old antiquated map, and a lawsuit against the county, Osgood was able to secure his right to develop on the land through what was called the Memorandum of Understanding agreement.

Meanwhile, the Naples Coalition, a conglomeration of several local environmental groups, has been fighting for just as long to keep the project from breaking ground. Last Monday, the group protested a closed-session meeting between the supervisors and Osgood, a meeting that resulted in a 3-2 vote to change the way the proposed Alt 1B plan would be approved next week.

The decision includes splitting the 485-acre project into two sections: the coastal portion, which includes most of the Naples townsite area and would be subject to additional state Coastal Commission review, and an inland section that is made up of a portion of Dos Pueblos Ranch.

“By separating the Santa Barbara Ranch project into separate coastal and inland sections, the county has given away its ability to properly mitigate and condition the inland project,” Naples Coalition president Phil McKenna said in a statement. “This action makes it possible that the county will give the Naples developer half of his development, but not get the promised mitigation and find itself in continuing litigation with developer Osgood over the other half.”

The closed session also raised cries of foul from the coalition, already incensed at what it calls “a weak and effective Transfer of Development Rights program” and “a much larger project than the MOU permitted.”

“The Brown Act requires government to meet and act in open, before the public, except in very narrow circumstances. The supervisors may not decide policy or land-use permitting in closed session,” Naples Coalition attorney Marc Chytilo said. “The original MOU (development proposal) was decided in open session, but now the board has retreated behind closed door for secret decisions on Naples.”

According to county counsel Dennis Marshall, the closed session was, in fact, in compliance with the law. “Of course we’re complying with the Brown Act,” he said.

Authored in 1953 by Assemblyman Ralph Brown, D-Turlock, the Brown Act is intended to safeguard the public’s ability to obtain access to and participate in local government meetings and deliberations. The act allows for closed sessions if the discussion has something to do with real property matters, personnel matters, and existing or pending litigation.

While unable to speak on specific matters, Marshall said the reason for the closed session Tuesday morning was because the discussion had to do with one of two lawsuits Osgood had filed against the county, cases that were stayed by Osgood when the county decided to consider his proposal. One offshoot of the legal action was the MOU project, which essentially encompassed the 1995 Naples map, the majority of which is in the coastal zone, some of which is inland.

As to the decision to split the evaluation of the project between coastal and inland sections, Osgood said that was always part of the plan.

“That was one of the core principles in the original MOU,” he said, adding that it was designed to let him proceed with development inland as the Coastal Commission considered the development on the coastal lots. Given that the MOU was the direct result of litigation, the county was not in violation of the Brown Act when the closed session was held, he said.

Regarding the issue of mitigation, Osgood said the agreed-upon mitigations approved by the county Planning Commission are still in effect, which includes dedication of a significant portion of the Dos Pueblos Ranch section of the project for an agricultural easement.

The sparks most likely will continue to fly Monday, as the Board of Supervisors plans to take a full day of testimony and deliberations on the project, starting at 9 a.m. Meanwhile, the Naples Coalition will hold a rally in opposition to the project at noon in the Courthouse Sunken Garden across the street from the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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