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Judge Denies Montecito Residents’ Petition Challenging Highway 101 Project Environmental Documents

A Santa Barbara Superior Court judge ruled against Montecito-area residents who claimed the environmental review for the Highway 101 widening project was inadequate regarding noise impacts.

Lawrence Grassini, Sharon Grassini and Mark Schwartz, with homes in the Fernald Point Lane/Padaro Lane area in Montecito, sued Caltrans in the first of two lawsuits challenging the environmental impact report for the project to add a third lane to each direction of Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

Judge Thomas Anderle denied the petition Tuesday.

“While the EIR made errors in the manner in which it described and analyzed noise impacts, petitioners have failed to establish that the errors were prejudicial, within the meaning of (California Environmental Quality Act),” he wrote in his ruling.

“Caltrans characterizes the Grassini petition as attempting to force it to build a sound wall to benefit their properties, even though the project will not increase noise levels in any amount detectable by the human ear (an increase of 0 to 1 decibel in petitioners’ neighborhood by 2040), through attempting to use CEQA as a mechanism to address existing noise.”

Attorney Douglas Carstens of Chatten-Brown & Carstens argued that the EIR acknowledged the project would add to the already-noisy environment and didn’t analyze all the potential mitigation measures and wrongly called a sound wall infeasible.

He called the lack of analysis a “procedural error,” but Anderle upheld his ruling.

The second lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental impact report, filed by attorney Marc Chytilo for the Transportation Futures Committee, will have a court decision heard on Dec. 15. That case focuses on the project’s traffic impacts, particularly to local intersections.

The Santa Barbara County Highway 101 project is being managed by Caltrans and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, and has already finished several sections of the project.  

The next construction phase, alterations to the Linden Avenue and Casitas Pass freeway interchanges, will likely start next spring, according to SBCAG.

The 11-mile, South Coast HOV widening project is in the design phase while the lawsuits are being heard in Superior Court.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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