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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 3:40 am | Fair 51º


Homeowners Breathing Easier After Council Votes to Amend Conejo Landslide Ordinance

After years of roadblocks, one woman is happy to proceed with rebuilding her Flores Casita

Six homeowners on Conejo Road can breathe a sigh of relief after the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to amend the Conejo Landslide Ordinance and allow the reconstruction of homes destroyed in the Tea Fire.

The council’s decision also will allow restoration to proceed of the Flores Casita, a 528-square-foot designated structure of merit at 1809 Stanwood Drive that has been blocked for seven years.

The house was not damaged in the fire, but it shifted off its foundation during the Aug. 13, 1978, Santa Barbara earthquake, a destructive magnitude-5.1 quake that left the structure uninhabitable for 20 years until Linda Dye purchased it in 2002. She then spent $40,000 on a foundation overhaul after receiving her first permit that year.

“I want to get my permit, build and live there,” Dye said. “I don’t want to fight with anybody. I never wanted to do that.”

The home was built by Santa Barbara vaquero Leo Flores for his sister, Barbara, in 1946. The Flores family owned and ranched large tracks of Sycamore Canyon between Parma Park and Westmont College since 1869.

Longtime Conjeo residents Blanche Tobin and Lori Bonnau didn’t know the Conejo Landslide Ordinance restricted new construction on their property until the day after the Tea Fire.

“It’s like someone taking a baseball bat and hitting you in the stomach as hard as they can,” Bonnau said.

Tobin said she didn’t realize the Tea Fire had started until Bonnau, who lived across the street, called her. The fire spread so fast that Thursday night that 20 to 30 minutes later Tobin and Bonnau evacuated without being notified by emergency personnel, Bonnau said.

“The emergency notification we got was when embers started falling in the front lawn,” she said.

Bonnau remembers returning to her home the following Tuesday to find it burned to the ground and puddles of melted glass from the sliding glass doors, she said.

Shaken and unsure how they could appeal the landslide ordinance, the Conejo landowners hired a landslide litigation expert and Grover-Hollingsworth & Associates, a geotechnical consulting firm from Westlake Village.

“There was never an option about not being able to rebuild,” Bonnau said.

The homeowners have been waiting to get a building permit since June 2009, when they submitted the geological report conducted by Grover-Hollingsworth to the city. That report persuaded city staff to recommend that the land ordinance’s boundary be redrawn not to include the six Conejo properties.

Despite the victory for these homeowners, there were others homes destroyed by the fire that remain ineligible to be rebuilt under the amended ordinance.

“Just glad that we can move forward,” Tobin said after the council’s vote Tuesday. “We wish we could all move forward.”

The homeowners still face a long process of getting permits. Dye also must receive a certificate of compliance from the city engineer to make the Flores Casita a legal structure of residence.

She has worked for the National Park Service as a naturalist on Santa Cruz Island and as a resource manager for Biscayne National Park in Florida.

“It’s mind boggling how I’ve got myself in the middle of this,” she said. “It’s important to me. I went through training to manage cultural resources.”

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne will be a junior at Chapman University in the fall. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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