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Supervisors Reverse Santa Barbara Ranch Rejection

One week after revoking development agreement, board rescinds action following state approval of key element

After a last-minute development, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday overrode the decision it made just one week before to yank the development agreement for Santa Barbara Ranch west of Goleta.

Monday afternoon, the county received a letter from the state Department of Conservation, one of two oversight agencies required to weigh in on the 71-home project before it can proceed with development rights on the Gaviota coast property.

The letter, sent by Conservation director Bridgett Luther, issued final approval for the property, which was subject to the Williamson Act. The law, officially the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, gives tax breaks to landowners as long as they use the land for agriculture or open space.

The Department of Conservation’s ruling rescinded the Williamson Act contract for the 3,200-acre Santa Barbara Ranch in exchange for the designation as open space of almost 2,700 acres of the property. Matt Osgood, the project’s developer, estimates the set-aside is worth $40 million.

The department’s approval was essential for the county’s approval of the project’s development rights, which will grant Osgood a 20-year window to complete the inland portion of the plan.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday, however, the supervisors rescinded the development agreement on the coastal portion of the site, where 16 homes were slated. Voting for the rescission were Supervisors Salud Carbajal, Doreen Farr and Janet Wolf, who last week voted to revoke the project’s development agreement. Supervisors Joe Centeno and Joni Gray backed the project each time.

The state Department of Conservation has released Santa Barbara Ranch owner Matt Osgood from Williamson Act obligations in exchange for the designation of 2,700 acres of his 3,200-acre property as open space.
The state Department of Conservation has released Santa Barbara Ranch owner Matt Osgood from Williamson Act obligations in exchange for the designation of 2,700 acres of his 3,200-acre property as open space. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk file photo)

According to Osgood, there are actually 60 buildable spaces in the coastal portion of the ranch. Now that the coastal agreement is gone, he told Noozhawk, the coastal area is more vulnerable.

“They’re giving up the benefits and the reduced density,” in addition to coastal access that was promised, Osgood said of the supervisors.

Osgood called the inland project “relatively predictable” but he said the board’s actions toward the coastal portion present “a new can of worms.”

“It’s not a good day for the county or this board,” he said.

The original project was approved last October, when supervisors backed the project on a 3-2 vote. That majority included now-retired 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, who supported the project but was succeeded by Farr, who opposes it.

One of the critical issues in the Santa Barbara Ranch project was whether it was all one project or whether it could be subdivided into coastal and inland projects. Osgood’s attorney, Stanley Lamport, noted the county Planning Commission voted 3-2 in favor of having the projects treated separately.

The project was evaluated under the same environmental document, however.

“But that doesn’t change what the commission action was and what the board action was, which was that they be separate projects,” said Lamport, adding that he and his client were “relieved” the project had received approval from the Department of Conservation.

The inland development agreement is now in effect, and has provisions that prevent the county from invalidating that agreement. “Hopefully, we can move forward constructively,” Lamport said.

Other than a few procedural questions, there was little discussion from the supervisors about the item during Tuesday’s meeting in Santa Maria.

County staff hasn’t received the documentation from the Department of Conservation yet, but if the county discovers any sort of error within the documents, it has 90 days to bring forward a challenge.

According to county counsel, the state document confirms that the county’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and that the conservation easement conforms to eligibility criteria.

Osgood can’t proceed with the inland portion of the project until the state Coastal Commission acts on any appeals associated with the inland portion, according to Dianne Black, development services director in the county Planning Department.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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