The pushback was evenly relentless and polite Monday evening as Carpinteria residents turned out in full force to roast the latest plan to develop the city’s treasured bluffs. A crowd of people wearing matching green shirts, many of them veterans of past fights to preserve the open space, packed City Hall and spoke against the proposal for a 154-room hotel, 85 homes, a restaurant, and a golf course on 27 acres of oceanfront property between City Hall and the Venoco processing plant.
Equally as unenthused about the project were Carpinteria’s City Council and Planning Commission, which hosted the special joint hearing as a preliminary show-and-tell from Beverly Hills–based developer Brad Hall and architect Brian Cearnal. They shared worries about environmental impacts, increased traffic, and obstructed views, and said the project runs contrary community’s small town character.
“This doesn’t seem like Carpinteria to me,” said Vice-Mayor Fred Shaw, explaining the development felt isolated from the rest of the city and sits uncomfortably close to Venoco’s oil operations. Commissioner Jane Benefield admonished the plan as a Stockholm Syndrome development that throws everything at the wall just to see what sticks. “Then with the stroke of a pen, you cut out half of the proposed buildings. That’s not going to work here.”
“I don’t want Carpinteria to become a tourist town,” continued Mayor Gregg Carty, echoing concerns over the project’s density and commercial elements. Water was also on his mind. “One more water meter seems too much right now,” Carty said, much less dozens and dozens more. The site, currently occupied by farm fields and the Tee Time driving range, uses 26 acre-feet of water a year. The development would necessitate 21 more.
The commission and councilmembers, however, were careful to leave the door open for further discussion. They said Tuesday was just the start of what will likely be years of negotiations, as the plan could and should be significantly downsized. Much appreciation was expressed that Hall and Cearnal were open to the early dialogue. But regardless of the pair’s good faith efforts, Councilmember Brad Stein cautioned the developers that Carpinteria’s citizens will not take the matter lying down. “You’re forewarned on this,” he said. “Good luck.”
In his presentation, Cearnal said the project would include a small farm to supply the on-site restaurant. An extensive gray-water system would serve the property, he explained, and between a 400-foot-wide swath of bluff that would stay untouched, the agricultural operation, and the nine-hole golf course, a full 30 percent of the area would remain open space. A much-needed railroad undercrossing would be built, Cearnal went on, and the hotel would not cater to just the super wealthy. With the razing of the Miramar, the South Coast lost a family-friendly destination with a large public meeting center; the new hotel would fill that void, he said.
Hall promised the gathered officials that he’s sensitive to community needs. He said he grew up in a small Midwestern town and understands Carpinteria’s values. The development would bring a “great, quality product to the city,” Hall said. And it would become the most environmentally sustainable project around, a model for future build outs. When asked by Stein if he’d created anything similar, Hall said he just finished a comparable project in Orange County’s Dana Point. That elicited groans from the crowd.
Since the 1960s, several development proposals have surfaced for the same stretch of Carpinteria coastline, known as Bluffs 1. None of them materialized. In 1998, the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, and thousands of area donors rallied to purchase a large chunk of land immediately west of the property and turn it into a nature reserve. The same nonprofit and the city tried to buy Bluffs 1 in 2014, but it was snagged by O.Rhyan Capital Management LLC, which is now in the process of selling it to Brad Hall’s Capital Hall Partners.
The public comments against Hall’s proposal came fast and furious on Tuesday. “I think this is a beautiful, well-thought-out plan,” said Donnie Nair, pausing for effect, “for someplace else.” Nair said she almost feels bad for all the developers that have come and gone away empty-handed over the years, but that the Carp community won’t fight any less hard this time around. “You guys don’t stand a chance,” she said to applause.
By the end of the meeting, a number of the councilmembers and commissioners suggested that if the public truly wanted to preserve Bluffs 1, it needed to quickly pony up the cash to buy the property. But, said Carty, “That’s a wild dream at this point.”