A few days before the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the Paradiso del Maré project a half mile west of Bacara Resort, the Santa Barbara County Trails Council and Brooks Street, applicant for the project, reached an agreement that could help realize the dream of constructing a blufftop trail along the Gaviota coast.
In exchange for the Trails Council dropping the appeal project, approved in December 2013, Brooks Street has offered to provide $500,000 in seed funding for the improvements needed to construct a parking lot, build a bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and convert the existing road that stretches from Eagle Canyon on the east to the western end of the Paradiso property into a trail. Total cost of the improvements needed to open this section of the CA Coastal Trail are estimated to be at least $2 million dollars, much of that for the bridge construction and spanning one drainage where the road has been completely washed out.
“When we sat down with Otis Calef, President of the Trails Council and Mark Wilkinson, its Executive Director to discuss the appeal, it became really clear to us that having a substantial amount of seed funding would be invaluable in obtaining the additional funds,” April Winecki, an environmental planner for Brooks Street said. During their meeting last week, one of the Brooks Street principals, Chris Yelich, announced that his firm was ready to offer the funding in exchange for dropping the appeal. The funds would become available to the Trails Council at the time when the first building permit is approved by the County.
Winecki noted that getting to construction could take quite a bit of time, acknowledging that the project will almost certainly be subject to legal action. Both the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and the Naples Coalition have also appealed the project to the County Board of Supervisors. The appeal is scheduled for review by the BOS on Tuesday February 4th.
The Santa Barbara chapters of Surfrider and the Audubon Society have also joined in the appeal along with noted marine mammal specialist Peter Howorth. “Without a thorough impact analysis and realistic protective measures for the seals, I am convinced that the project will have an extremely detrimental effect on this site” Howorth explained in joining the appeal. “This project could even cause the seal rookery to be abandoned, resulting in the permanent loss of one of only two seal rookeries along the mainland coast of Santa Barbara County that is accessible to the public.”
Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, noted that the appeal will focus on three significant impacts relating to the coastal estate that he feels were missed in the EIR. “First of all, the environmental document only provided a cursory review of the impacts the construction and operation will have on the rookery,” Chytilo explained. “Second, it minimized the impact of construction on a white-tailed kite nesting site located 75 feet away from the proposed home site, an impact that would almost assuredly cause the birds to abandon this nest. And third, it did not address the loss of a popular beach access trail used by surfers for years..
“We feel that if the County had properly considered those three things as significant impacts they would have been required under CEQA to identify alternatives that could meet the basic project objectives and yet avoid any of those significant impacts. And if there were no alternatives then CEQA should have disallowed the County from approving the project.
Both County Planner Nicole Lieu and resource specialist John Storrer, who was hired by the County to review the impacts of the project on both the kites and the seal rookery, feel confident that the conditions placed on the project along with improvements to the kite habitat, seasonal beach closures during critical seal breeding periods and the establishment of a “seal watch” program similar to that at the Carpinteria Seal Preserve will provide adequate protection for both.
Should the appeal be denied, the next step for the applicant would be to submit an application to the CA Coastal Commission for a Coastal Development Permit. Chytilo would not comment on what action his clients might take if the appeal is not successful.