More than 120 years in the making, the dreams of a real estate speculator from Ohio were brought one huge step closer to reality this week as the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a large-scale luxury development for the picturesque ranch at the easternmost gate of the Gaviota Coast commonly known as Naples.
Though the modern Naples vision-complete with 71 mansions, guest houses, garages, and an equestrian center-is a far cry from John Williams’s 1888 Italian township dream, it was the latter’s antiquated map of hundreds of legal lots on the property that loomed large over the supervisors’ boardroom Tuesday afternoon. In the end, the supes succumbed to the pressure and, following a North County-versus-South County split in logic, voted 3-2 in favor of Orange County developer Matt Osgood’s project.
Shortly before the final vote was called, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf summed up her feelings about the long-anticipated vote, saying, “I feel like I am being held hostage. : I am dumbfounded by the way this is moving. We have not risen to the best of what our community can be.”
The stage was set for Tuesday’s historic vote last week after the supervisors, following a nine-hour, emotion-charged hearing, spit the bit on approving the Naples plan, opting instead to return to the matter this week in hopes that the extra time would allow Osgood and the legal teams representing the Naples Coalition and Surfrider Foundation to hash out a last-minute compromise that would have made the project, in the words of Supervisor Joe Centeno, “something we can all embrace.”
While the meeting did take place, no such deal was brokered. (Though it should be noted that, even with this week’s vote, both sides pledged to keep talking.) The current incarnation of the project-which features the aforementioned dozens of houses, ranging in size from 6,500 to 10,000 square feet, and more than 2,600 acres of permanently protected open space-was up for final approval. With public comment long since closed, Osgood and his attorney were given one last chance to defend their project before the supervisors. Osgood reminded the five-member panel of the long road that led to this week’s hearing including the many previous “less desirable” versions of Osgood’s plan, the threat of a possible grid development at Naples thanks to the Williams map, the likelihood of a lawsuit if he were to be denied, and the countless public hearings on the subject that included votes of support from the both the county’s Board of Architectural Review and its Planning Commission. Alluding to the nearly decade-long process, Osgood opined, “I am extremely comfortable saying that I have gone way beyond the call [of duty]. : I think we have ended up with a world-class solution for a world-class property.”
Two supervisors were less than convinced. To Wolf and the 1st District’s Salud Carbajal, the project-with its decided lack of beach access, nine mansions on the coastal terrace, massive amounts of grading, viewshed impacts, and several perceived shortcomings of its Environmental Impact Report-was too much trouble with too little mitigation for them to sign off on. Acknowledging Osgood’s efforts to improve the plan-such as relocating several of the inland houses to “invisible” sites and an expensive, more earth-conscious architectural redesign-Carbajal explained his “no” vote by saying, “Certainly, this is a lot better of a project than we had in the past, but I do think that Santa Barbara deserves better.”
Ironically, it was a visibly torn 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno, who spent part of his childhood living near Naples, who provided the decisive vote on Tuesday. While his North County colleagues-the 4th District’s Joni Gray and the 3rd District’s lame-duck representative Brooks Firestone in whose district the project resides-had long been supporters of the plan, it was Centeno’s vote that was considered something of a wild card. Admitting that he preferred that there be “zero” houses built at Naples, the self-described “conservative property rights guy” ultimately followed the logic of Firestone and Gray, choosing the preservation of some land at Naples over the threat of not being able preserve any land.
While the Naples Coalition has long been on record with a promise to fight the development at Naples clear to the courts if need be, the project faces its next major hurdle when its coastal portions come before the California Coastal Commission sometime next year-most likely late summer. In the meantime, it seems that, in the words of Firestone himself, “It is no longer a matter of no development-something is going to happen at here [at Naples] no matter what. : But the process is far from over.”