Spirits of the Land

The Public Addresses Proposed Naples Development

by Ethan Stewart

There was standing room only for the last of the 200 people to turn out for a public comment hearing hosted by Santa Barbara County on the proposed luxury home development at the Santa Barbara Ranch. For more than four hours last Thursday night, the county’s Planning and Development staff heard from student activists, eighth-generation Chumash elders, environmental lawyers, UCSB professors, and former state park rangers, all taking the mike to address the county’s 1,084-page draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on proposed Naples development. After nearly one year of research, the draft EIR was released late last month and identified several Class I — or significant — environmental impacts in Orange County developer Matt Osgood’s plans for the southernmost gateway of the Gaviota Coast. Osgood hopes to put between 54 and 72 houses — ranging in size from 3,700- to 13,300-square-feet — on the historic several-hundred-acre Santa Barbara Ranch and the adjacent Dos Pueblos Ranch. “For the most part, what I have heard tonight, I take dead serious,” concluded Steve Chase, the county’s deputy director of the Planning and Development Department, shortly after the last public comment.

With Osgood in attendance, 50-plus public speakers — all of them in opposition to the project — levied a number of charges against the draft EIR, ranging from standard concerns about viewshed impacts, public access, and the “mega-mansion” size of the proposed structures to more technical cries of foul about allowing phased approval, the allegation that the report didn’t follow the county’s usual threshold of significance standards, and the fact that it failed to map native grasslands or address the possible impacts of previous petroleum extraction on the property. Additionally, several members of the Barbareño and Coastal bands of Chumash raised the issue that the land at Naples was once the site of two villages and several burial grounds and sacred places; therefore, they argued, the removal of a reported 13 tons of archeological matter from the area during the draft EIR process without consultation from members of the local tribe constituted a violation of recent county law SB-18.

But perhaps the biggest and most frequent gripe concerned transfer of development rights (TDR) and their role in the approval process. As specifically outlined in Local Coastal Plan 218, the land rezone that would jumpstart the project can only occur if the county finds TDRs to be infeasible at the Naples site. The TDR option was soundly rebuked by county supervisors this spring, despite a Naples-specific feasibility study earlier this year that found TDRs could help offset a portion of the proposed development. In response to several speakers’ requests for additional and more specific examination of this issue, Chase offered, “It would be nice if we [the county] had an actual TDR process in place.” According to Chase, County Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Brooks Firestone are working on a proposal to get the issue before the board again in the near future.

Osgood concurred that TDRs are a possibility he is “more than willing to listen to.” But after sitting through the entire hearing last week, he said that his optimism is waning. “Most of the people who go to these meetings don’t realize that there is an official map on this thing that I could start selling lots off of tomorrow,” he explained. He then added, “I didn’t hear any good or new information. … It sure would be nice if these meetings could be an exchange of ideas and higher thinking, rather than just a battle.” Unfortunately for Osgood and company, if last week’s hearing was any indication, the battle is far from over. As Santa Barbara Archeological Society President Keith Zandona observed last week — much to the delight and applause of the audience — “This land has spirits and they have filled this room tonight!”

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