Public Right-of-Way Issue in Montecito Attracts a Brief from California Counties
Side with County of Santa Barbara Seeking to Remove Landscaping
The 58 counties of California filed a brief with the courts in the case brought by homeowners on East Mountain Drive against the County of Santa Barbara over landscaping in the public right of way. The California State Association of Counties sided with the county, advising the Court of Appeal that abatement of “a nuisance and a crime” was in the public interest and that preventing the county from acting due to a preliminary injunction placed the court “in the position of giving such petitioners authority to continue violating the law.”
The somewhat tangled case began in 2021 when the county held meetings and sent letters to several homeowners saying they must remove their landscaping alongside the road — rooted in the public right of way — or the county would remove it for them. The parcels are near the Hot Springs trailhead, a trail that became wildly popular during the pandemic and which has limited legal parking. In clearing the right of way, the county was attempting to add more and put the parking off the roadway.
The homeowners argued their landscaping had existed for years, some had won awards, and one actually had permits and mature oak trees. Their attorney, David Cousineau of the firm Cappello & Noël of Santa Barbara, filed for a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review, stating the roadside plantings had become habitat and some were near riparian areas. The Superior Court granted a preliminary injunction that prevented the county from removing the plants and boulders in the right of way until a trial was held.
“The Association’s brief ignores what is happening,” Cousineau wrote in an email. “The county wants to rip out almost a mile of landscaping in a way that creates environmental and fire-safety issues. CEQA requires the county to consider the environmental impacts of actions like these, even if couched as ‘enforcement.’ Ignoring these major issues is why the Association’s brief will not help the county.”