August 07 2012

The Many Ways to Save the Gaviota Coast

by Angela Howe

Preservation of the Gaviota Coast - southern California's last remaining 20 mile stretch of unspoiled coastline - is of the utmost importance to Surfrider Foundation and is especially near and dear to the hearts of the Santa Barbara Chapter activists, who have fought for 20 years to save the Gaviota Coast from development and urban sprawl.  Recently, a court denied the Chapter’s efforts to stop a development agreement, but this by no means will stop the Chapter’s efforts and full-fledged campaign to preserve the coast.

In November 2008, Surfrider Foundation brought suit against the County of Santa Barbara, along with Santa Barbara Ranch LLC as the Real Party in Interest, to prevent the development of priceless coastal resources and preserve access to Naples on the Gaviota Coast.  Surfrider Foundation, Environmental Defense Center and the Naples Coalition filed this lawsuit to prevent the 71-unit residential development project at Naples.  The Plaintiffs challenged the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), the Coastal Act, Planning and Zoning Law, Williamson Act, and the failure to comply with the Land Use and Development Code and General Plan in Santa Barbara.

The Superior Court for the County of Santa Barbara, under Judge Thomas P. Anderle, denied the Plaintiff’s petition for writ of mandate.  Judge Anderle opined that “all project impacts are fully analyzed in the REIR” and that a reasonable range of alternatives were properly analyzed under CEQA.  The Court continued to agree with Defendants on the other counts.  Judge Anderle mentioned that the issue of removal of beach access is not ripe relating to the coastal portion of the project.  As a silver lining, the court referenced the stipulation to stay the claims related to coastal development approvals pending disposition by the California Coastal Commission (“CCC”).  In concluding remarks, the opinion states:

“The court recognizes counsel labored hard and long on the case.  The Court recognizes that there are very diverse positions taken on the wisdom of the project and the integrity of the process.  The Court must remain neutral on the wisdom of the Project and must determine whether the law has been violated during the process of approved the Project.”

Luckily, this set back in our litigation tactic is not a worrisome hindrance for our overall Save Gaviota campaign.  In addition to the option of appealing the litigation and continuing the battle in court, the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and our community partners have the ability to fight this project at the California Coastal Commission.  It is the CCC’s mandate to uphold the provisions of the California Coastal Act, which include requiring a Coastal Development Permit for a change in intensity of use of a coastal area.  Also, Chapter 3, article 2 of the Coastal Act requires that ample beach access be provided to the residents and visitors of California, which should be fully adhered to in any plans for Naples.  The Save Gaviota campaign will continue to educate the public, media, potential land developers, and Board of Supervisors about the public value and wondrous natural diversity of this coastal land and the imperative to preserve the Gaviota Coast.