Third Time’s the Charm

Veronica Meadows Approved

by Nick Welsh

For developer Mark Lee, visits to the City Council chambers have
been occasions for genuine dread. During his first visit,
councilmembers pointedly told Lee to drastically redesign his
controversial housing plans, proposed for the Las Positas Valley
alongside Arroyo Burro Creek. The second time, the same
councilmembers told Lee they liked his original plans for Veronica
Meadows better. But this Tuesday, they gave Lee the five-vote
supermajority he needed not only to annex his property into city
limits, but to build 25 new houses.

Lee’s victory came in the face of a last-minute blitz
orchestrated by environmentalists, who dismissed his creek
restoration plans as nothing more than “channel stabilization” and
predicted that the entrance bridge Lee has proposed building across
Arroyo Burro Creek will become a highway to hell for all the
critters and wildlife that rely on what everyone agrees is a
seriously degraded channel much in need of improvement. Lee also
weathered a firestorm of criticism from affordable housing
advocates, who questioned why City Hall was bending over backward
to accommodate a developer who proposed building what they
characterized as oversized homes for people with oversized

While Lee and his attorney Steve Amerikaner were ready, willing,
and able to defend themselves, their biggest sledgehammer, it
turned out, was the residents of nearby Alan Road, who showed up en
masse Tuesday night — as they have at every meeting of
significance — to oppose any and all efforts to locate the entrance
road through their street. From the beginning, Lee sought to avoid
Alan Road, proposing instead the entrance bridge across the creek.
And from the same beginning, environmentalists — concerned about
preserving the Las Positas Valley as “the lungs of Santa Barbara”
from a host of projects big and small — sought to force the
entrance through Alan Road. They were aided greatly by an
environmental report that identified the bridge’s impacts on
wildlife as the one significant and unavoidable negative impact of
the project.

Since the councilmembers indicated they didn’t like the bridge
during Lee’s first close encounter with them, the Alan Road
residents have been in a constant state of political mobilization.
Based on their pressure — coupled with a satchel full of public
improvements that Lee has promised — the council approved Lee’s
project with the bridge. Chief among Lee’s promised improvements is
the rehabilitation and restoration of both banks of the creek.
(Exactly what has been promised has yet to be seen, however, as the
final creek plan has not been adopted. The final plan will have to
be “peer reviewed” by a biological consultant, and the feelings of
the city’s own Creeks Committee explored, before the final plan can
be approved by the city’s community development director.) In
addition, Lee is on the hook to build new bike and pedestrian
pathways linking the Westside and Elings Park to Arroyo Burro
Beach; to pay for a new Las Positas traffic light by Elings Park;
and to contribute to the costs of a new roundabout at Las Positas
Road and Cliff Drive. In addition, Lee promised to include two
affordable units.

Opposing the project were Councilmembers Helene Schneider and
Das Williams. Williams said he felt “very sad that the soul of
Santa Barbara is for sale,” but Councilmember Brian Barnwell
suggested that City Hall had extorted concessions from the
developer, rather than the developer bribing the council. And
Councilmember Grant House gushed, “This is an unprecedented creek
and habitat restoration plan.” From the outset, however, the fate
of Lee’s project lay in the hands of Mayor Marty Blum, whose vote
was essential for Lee to get the five he needed. And even before
the meeting, Blum was indicating she’d support the project, based
on Lee’s improvements and the howls from Alan Road. “I think it
passes the smell test,” she said.


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