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Back to the Drawing Board for Veronica Meadows

Judge sides with environmentalists, deals another setback to Las Positas Valley project in 8-year battle.

In a blow to the authority of the city of Santa Barbara, a Superior Court judge Tuesday ruled in favor of environmentalists opposed to the development of 25 single-family homes in the Las Positas Valley, effectively overturning an earlier decision by the City Council.

Judge Thomas Anderle’s decision also means that the roller-coaster ride that has come to characterize the Veronica Meadows project is likely to continue.

The plan was to build the two-story homes on 15 acres of green space across from Elings Park. In return, developer Mark Lee would spend his own money to restore Arroyo Burro Creek and bring bicycle and hiking trails to the area.

Veronica Meadows was approved by the City Council in December 2006, but a month later, the Citizens Planning Association filed suit against Lee and the city.

At the heart of the dispute was a plan to build a bridge over the creek to circumvent neighbors’ concerns about traffic on nearby Alan Road.

Environmentalists said the bridge should not be an option because it would cause harm to wildlife and the channel below. Because the bridge posed such a large environmental hazard, they argued, Lee and the city should be compelled to either select another option or scrap the project altogether.

In his highly technical ruling Tuesday, Anderle agreed, saying that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act.

In addition to pitting neighbors on Alan Road against environmentalists, Lee’s proposal drew fire for its intent to build more expensive homes in a city already grappling with worsening traffic and exorbitant housing costs.

Lee, meanwhile, argued that his plan was socially and environmentally responsible. In addition to his creek restoration plan, Lee vowed to ensure that at least two homes were affordable to middle-class families.

Tuesday’s decision was not a surprise; last month, Anderle had issued a tentative ruling saying essentially the same thing. In fact, on Tuesday, just one minor semantic change was made in final paragraph.

Anderle’s final judgment means that the eight years of political wrangling over the project will most likely continue.

Two years ago, the project became hung up in the city Planning Commission, which was deadlocked on whether to give it the go-ahead.

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Das Williams
Later, the City Council — without a recommendation from the Planning Commission to lean on — balked and waffled until December of last year, when it finally gave it the nod in a 5-2 vote, with Council members Helene Schneider and Das Williams voting no. (Because the vote involved annexing land, a supermajority of five votes was required.)
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Brian Barnwell
Now, one of the council’s biggest supporters of the project — Brian Barnwell — is on his way out the door, and will be replaced by Dale Francisco,
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Dale Francisco
who campaigned against heavy development in Santa Barbara.

On Tuesday, Francisco said he does not know enough about the project to have a strong opinion just yet.

“All I can really say is I have started to research it,” the councilman-elect said. “There are a lot of different opinions and I want to take that into account before I make a decision.”

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