Supervisor Joan Hartmann | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The specter of the Naples township rose before the Board of Supervisors again, a ghost of a development that many thought had been put to rest in 2008. But it’s not dead; it’s just been dormant. First conceived in 1888, Naples planned 400 homes along what is known as Dos Pueblos Ranch on the Gaviota Coast. Fifty “new rural estate residential lots” north of the highway are described in an Inland Development Agreement — the southern portion was not part of the agreement — but appeals, legal challenges, and negotiations delayed its implementation until 2014. The development, now called Santa Barbara Ranch, was granted in exchange for public benefits, such as the restoration of Dos Pueblos Creek, which was the subject of Tuesday’s appeal because it had blown past the April 2021 deadline for completion.

Every year, the director of Planning & Development has verified that the developer was progressing in all good faith toward the restoration plan, which required SBRHC Inc. — the owner, who was represented by attorney Stanley Lamport of Cox, Castle & Nicholson on Tuesday — to fund nonprofit groups $400,000 to conceive the plan, engage landowner cooperation, and restore the creek habitat for natives like steelhead trout. The plan was coming together until the county learned that the owners of Dos Pueblos Ranch — land crucial to the project — had decided not to participate. It was not clear why they pulled out, but the fires before 2019 apparently precipitated the decision.

The agreement had a Plan B; the nonprofits could locate an alternative creek to restore in Gaviota should Dos Pueblos Creek become unfeasible. That work, however, had apparently not even begun by the time April 2021 arrived, a fact that caused the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Surfrider, and Environmental Defense Center to appeal the most recent determination by Planning that the developer was complying with the agreement.

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Phil McKenna, who founded the Naples Coalition in 2005 to fight the proposal, noted that “not a rock was moved; not a tree was planted; not a fish barrier was removed” toward restoration, and that the public was unanimously opposed to the development. “You have permission from the public to approve this appeal and terminate this Inland Development Agreement,” he told the supervisors.

Santa Barbara Ranch, aka Naples, project as modified in 2008

Stanley Lamport argued the developer had only been obligated to fund and support the nonprofits’ work, and the nonprofits were supposed to use that as seed money to raise the millions creek restoration would cost. But Supervisor Joan Hartmann summarized the appellants’ position succinctly, saying there had been a distinct lack of imagination to execute the plan. “The Inland Development Agreement was predicated on there being something of value for the public,” she said. “For me, I can’t make a finding that this has been good faith compliance.” Supervisors Gregg Hart and Das Williams agreed, with supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Bob Nelson opposed.

Rather than terminate the agreement, however, the supervisors sent staff back to work out the findings to write up a notice of failure to perform. Hartmann added that she hoped conversations would continue between the developer, the nonprofits, and the environmental groups in Gaviota, because after the Alisal Fire, there were many creeks in need of restoration.

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