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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