Connecting the Drops
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Judge Invalidates Water District Annexation of Gaviota Coast Lots

April 28 2009 |
by Surfrider Foundation

PRESS RELEASE

From: Santa Barbara Chapter Surfrider Foundation
Date: April 14, 2009
Press contact: Mike Lunsford (805) 967-5828 and Marc Chytilo, (805) 682-0585 of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy
Ken Palley (805) 967-9938 and Ellison Folk(415) 269-6699, Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

________________________________________________________________

A lawsuit filed by the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Surfrider Foundation resulted today in a decision invalidating a 2008 action by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) annexing prime Gaviota Coast parcels into the Goleta Water District. Without water service, development of the lots is more challenging.

“This is a second significant ruling in two weeks for the Gaviota Coast” explained Gaviota Coast Conservancy President Mike Lunsford. “The laws and policies protecting the Gaviota Coast, mean very little if they are not followed by local decision makers. This decision restores reason and fair play in the permitting process, and puts Orange County developers on notice that this community will not stand by and allow them to play fast and loose with the Gaviota Coast.”

Ms. Ellison Folk, lead attorney for the legal team, stated “This decision required analysis of a complex legal and factual setting, but reached the core issues regarding whether the developer, GWD and LAFCO could rely on the incomplete 1998 annexation for a golf course to provide water service for a completely different residential project ten years later. The Court recognized that the new residential project needed a new application for annexation and could not rely on the ten year old incomplete golf course project.”

Attorney Marc Chytilo explained: “This case has a long and convoluted history.” The two environmental groups first challenged an attempt by the Goleta Water District to annex the parcels in 2007, since the District didn’t comply with CEQA by preparing an EIR. To avoid a losing lawsuit, GWD withdrew that project, then arranged to reactivate the 1998 golf course annexation, bypassing CEQA. But the 1998 annexation had never been finalized, as all parties had agreed at that time to merge 25 Naples antiquated lots as a required element of the project, but the merger never happened. The golf course project received full approval from the County and Coastal Commission, but then was stopped when red-legged frogs were discovered on the site. The developer sued the Coastal Commission, who entered into a tolling agreement that contemplated 10 houses on the 25 Naples lots, in addition to two other large agricultural lots with mansions. Only one of these lots had water service, so the developer had to apply to the GWD to annex the rest of the lots to get water service.

In 1998 the planned water service was to be almost exclusively reclaimed water for the golf course, and the developer paid GWD $4.5 million for the District to expand its reclaimed water facilities. When the golf course was stopped, the developer shifted and pursued the residential project that requires all potable water. The developer demanded that the GWD help them with the annexation, or else would demand return of the $4.5 million, even though the money had been spent for infrastructure to deliver reclaimed water for the golf course. In 2008, GWD convinced LAFCO to use the 1998 incomplete annexation as a means to get water for residential development.

Chytilo continued: “Surfrider and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy fought these efforts through a series of lawsuits, and today prevailed. The judge ruled that there had been no annexation, and a new application would have to be filed for Makar’s residential development.” Makar has a development application pending before Santa Barbara County to develop two massive, luxury residential compounds. They also own 25 antiquated “Naples” lots totaling 57 acres that are zoned agricultural. These lots are similar to the lots owned by another Orange County developer, Matt Osgood and known as Santa Barbara Ranch. But now they have no water and face growing community hostility to oversized mansions on the Gaviota Coast’s prime agricultural lands. With new board members on the Goleta Water District Board of Directors, at LAFCO and at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, the Makar residential project faces an uncertain future.

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