[Noozhawk’s note: Third in a series. Click here for the first article, and click here for the second.]
A well used and popular public easement accessing lower Franceschi Park has been restored, following the City of Santa Barbara’s order to the homeowners that they remove the lock on a gate that previously prevented walkers from using it.
Noozhawk first reported on the controversy on March 26, and reported on the city’s ruling March 29.
By March 30, access to the easement had been restored, much to the delight of the pedestrians who have come to rely on its access into and out of the park that straddles Mission Ridge Road at the top of the Riviera.
The Parks & Recreation Department was swift in its response to the public’s numerous complaints, wasting no time in communicating with the property owners at the center of the case.
The Urban Hikers have confirmed that the gate’s locking mechanism has been removed, thereby restoring public access at the eastern end of Mira Vista Avenue.
According to Rich Hanna, the Parks & Recreation Department’s assistant director, the unlocked gate may still appear to be locked, due to a heavy closing mechanism that makes it feel stiff.
Hanna also reported that the video cameras that had been installed on the municipal park property have been removed by city workers. He said the cameras’ owners can claim them at the Parks & Recreation Department office, at 620 Laguna St.
Through the Urban Hikers’ continuing investigation, we discovered that city permits had been granted for the driveway, fence and gate that blocked the public access.
In speaking with Debra Andaloro, the city’s principal planner, we learned that the plans the homeowners submitted for a wrought-iron fence and gate, modification of Mira Vista Avenue to make the roadway look like a private driveway, and additional fencing along the park boundary all failed to disclose the existence of a long-standing public easement across the parcel.
Had the property owners disclosed the easement, the permit would have received a higher level of review and scrutiny than it was afforded, she said.
The City Attorney’s Office is now reviewing the history of the public easement.
When a property owner fails to disclose the existence of an easement on a permit application, the application is deemed incomplete. In such cases, remedies have included revocation of the permit and an order to remove the unpermitted improvement or work.
Andaloro has told Noozhawk that, in an effort to avoid similar situations in the future, the Planning Division has developed a way to flag properties of high public value and use, which will create a higher level of review when permit applications are made.
The property owners have not responded to the Urban Hikers’ requests for comment. We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as they develop.
— Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright make up the Urban Hikers team. Any opinions expressed are their own.