The fight to develop 1,000 acres of Gaviota real estate was blocked from moving forward this week when the county supervisors voted to deny the transfer of ownership of the Naples Project. Known to some enviro critics as the boogeyman of Gaviota, developer Matt Osgood lost the property to foreclosure in 2010 after failing to make payments to First National Bank. The firm Standard Portfolios Asset Management purchased the real estate — and hired Osgood to lead the development team — in January.
Earlier this year, Osgood submitted an application to the county’s Planning and Development department to transfer ownership, but the application was denied. The decision hinged on the fact that the application contained very little information about Standard’s financial resources or reputation to prove it could perform obligations outlined in the development agreement, including funds to restore Dos Pueblos Creek.
On Tuesday, the supervisors — excluding Peter Adam, who dissented, and Steve Lavagino, who left the meeting early — denied the appeal Osgood brought to them. The supervisors took issue with the fact that the county had no way of verifying the $2 million the company said is tucked away in an escrow account to fund those obligations. “I could tell you I have 5 bazillion dollars,” said Supervisor Salud Carbajal, but it means nothing unless audited by a third party.
What Standard Portfolios did produce for the hearing was a shiny 49-page brochure that, as Phil McKenna of Gaviota Coast Conservancy pointed out, was filled with nine and a half pages of beautiful photographs of dogs and ponies. The application is short on substance and fails to mention Osgood’s foreclosure, McKenna contended. Osgood was at the hearing, but the firm’s attorney, soft-spoken Stanley Lamport, who has been involved since 2002, made the case for him.
Lamport said Osgood’s fate was not an uncommon one after the market crashed in 2008. “Osgood didn’t create that,” he told the supervisors. Lamport laid out a narrow interpretation of the agreement; he said Standard Portfolios has paid $100,000 to initiate planning to enhance the Dos Pueblos Creek, provided all assistance to complete the restoration plan, and overfunded it by nearly seven times the required amount. “This is a contractual issue,” he said.
But a roomful of longtime conservationist committed to saving Naples, some holding colorful signs above their heads, begged to differ. While highlighting the natural beauty of Gaviota, they contended Osgood’s involvement this time around casts doubt on Standard Portfolio; further, the company’s experience is limited to purchasing rental apartment buildings in urban areas, and it knows nothing about the Central Coast.
“I’m still trying to figure out who this entity is,” Carbajal said of the firm, adding that if you look up “enigma” in the dictionary, you will find Standard Portfolios. The principal for the firm is a low-profile man named David Liu, a Chinese-American investor from Arcadia.
Supervisors Doreen Farr, who represents Gaviota, and Janet Wolf further noted how little information is out there about Standard Portfolios. Wolf rattled off info she discovered about the company on the Internet that was “not very positive.” Noting she was uncertain with the accuracy of her searches, she concluded, “I don’t have enough verifiable information.”
As he often does, Supervisor Adam differed from his colleagues’ opinion. “If we never let anyone develop, we can’t get anyone with experience,” he said. “Nothing is going to be good enough.” Although the appeal was denied, the supervisors told Lamport that Standard Portfolio could resubmit an application to transfer ownership.
After the vote, an anguished Lamport said in an interview, “It’s not like the project died today. We’re still baking.” As to what the company will do moving forward, Lamport could not say for sure. What he did seem certain about was the unrelenting fight between developers and Gaviota conservationists. “There are days when I think if I wake up and announce to my opposition it’s sunny out, they will contend it’s cloudy,” he said.