Environmentalists led by Surfrider Foundation and the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) lost a legal challenge on March 29 against Santa Barbara County’s green light of Paradiso del Mare, a proposed residential development west of the proverbial line in the sand between Goleta’s rapidly sprawling urbanscape and the natural splendor of greater Gaviota. The project calls for two coastal estates on 142 acres and includes 114 acres of open space, a mile-long easement for the California Coastal Trail, and public parking and access to the beach. Representing development firm Brooks Street, attorney Michael Zischke described Judge Thomas Anderle’s ruling in favor of the county’s assessment of the project’s environmental impacts as “an important milestone.” To pull a building permit, Brooks Street needs only to tighten up and submit Paradiso’s conservation easement with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County by April 10.
Among many points, GCC and Surfrider claimed that the county’s approval of the project two years ago violated the California Environmental Quality Act by focusing on the two Paradiso home sites instead of the entire scope of the Brooks Street landholding. Abutting Paradiso to the west, the firm also owns roughly 60 acres, with plans for seven high-end single-family homes in pre-application phase at the county planning department. “This property has not been properly processed,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Marc Chytilo, whose track record in Anderle’s courtroom suffered a rare defeat with the decision. “It holds a lot of resources that makes development very difficult.” As proposed, Chytilo added, Paradiso would impact a nearby seal rookery, nesting sites for white-tailed kites, and a long-established bluff-top trail.
As GCC and Surfrider consider appealing Anderle’s decision, they’re also poised to move forward with a separate but related legal challenge against the California Coastal Commission. In April 2014, the state agency’s 12-member commission voted against reviewing Paradiso with respect to new modifications put forth by Brooks Street. Environmentalists contend these details warranted proper noticing and public review. Brooks Street is also heading up the controversial Newport Banning Ranch project in Newport Beach, which includes roughly 1,000 homes, a hotel, shops, and open space across 400 coastal acres now occupied by oil production, protected species, and sensitive habitat.