The century-old dream of developing the blufftop stretch of the Gaviota Coast known as Naples got yet another rude awakening this week, when the would-be developer, Dilip Ram, and his associated companies, Spectra America and Cerebus Capital Management, officially walked away from a pending deal to take over the property from First Bank. The move, which was not unexpected, came a couple weeks after the Santa Barbara County Supervisors voted against transferring the existing development agreement to Ram, whose reputation, financial resources, and previous line of bankrupt projects was called into question.
The news was greeted with applause from the environmental community, which has cast any development of Naples as a nightmare, but saw Ram as the worst possible outcome. “He was coming with a mercenary development that was going to squeeze in as much development on the property as he possibly could in order to satisfy his funders and make it work financially,” said Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Naples Coalition. “I didn’t think he had the capacity, and I don’t think that the project that was approved in 2008 can pencil today. It probably didn’t pencil back then.”
Ram is the second developer to walk away from the deal since the days of Matt Osgood, the Orange County developer who worked for many years to achieve the 2008 approval before being unable to pay his bills, eventually losing the property to First Bank. “We’re going to save this property — that’s the bottom line,” said Chytilo. “This is a test of wills, and this is an expression of our community’s determination.”
All eyes are now on the Seattle-based Freestone Capital Management, which nearly inked a deal for the property in February before Ram showed up and has pledged a “heavy emphasis on preservation.” Chytilo has heard the rumors too, but said that there is nothing “tangible” on the table yet from Freestone. “Our goal is to preserve the property,” said Chytilo. “If that’s what they want to do, that would be great. But they have to be willing to lose a bunch of money.”