The serene and scenic Las Positas Valley has recently become the fighting ground for a land dispute between the City of Santa Barbara and the local environmental group Citizens Planning Association.
CPA, a countywide organization active in many disputes over local land development, sued the City of Santa Barbara last week after the city council voted to approve the Veronica Meadows project last October. The plan would allow developer Mark Lee’s construction firm to erect a housing development in an area of the Las Positas Valley, located in the foothills above Santa Barbara.
Lee’s plans to construct 23 luxury homes and two other residences, worth $400,000 each, along Las Positas Road across from Elings Park have been heavily criticized by the CPA and other local environmental organizations primarily for reasons related to conservation and environmental safety.
According to a press release from the organization, the CPA is opposed to development of the area because they say the land in question is “one of Santa Barbara’s few remaining untouched landscapes.” The group is also concerned about construction that would take place along Arroyo Burro Creek, a small river running through the valley, asserting it could potentially harm plants and animals that live near the water.
In addition, CPA Executive Director Naomi Kovacs said the CPA is disappointed with the city council for voting to approve the plan despite the findings of the Environmental Impact Report for the Veronica Meadows area. According to the press release, the EIR included several proposals for ways to use the land that would have less of a negative impact on its ecosystem, but the city council ignored these options in favor of Lee’s plan.
“In the case of Veronica Meadows, the Environmental Impact Report identified alternatives to the project that would avoid or lessen significant biological impacts to the Arroyo Burro Creek and significant traffic impacts,” the press release said. “However, contrary to the EIR and without evidence, the City Council … dismissed these alternatives as infeasible.”
Kovacs said the council’s analysis of the project was incomplete and disregarded some environmental concerns that would be involved with developing the area.
“Instead of properly analyzing the alternatives and following the mandate of California Environmental Quality Act to adopt feasible alternatives to the project, the city jumped to making a statement of overriding consideration, saying there’s no way to mitigate or reduce the Class 1 impacts,” Kovacs said. “How can they make such a finding when the EIR directly contradicts these assertions?”
“Moreover,” Kovacs continued, “The city cannot blindly state that the project alternatives are infeasible without full analysis and supporting evidence.”
Despite concerns with the project, Kovacs said that the CPA does not want to completely eliminate all future possibilities of improvement for the Las Positas Valley area. The organization’s goal, Kovacs said, is to ensure that all environmental issues are addressed while construction proceeds in the most environmentally efficient way possible.
“We have a finite supply of land to build on and limited infrastructure to support development,” Kovacs said. “We must choose the right projects for the remaining places to build, and make sure those projects meet true needs of our community, with the least negative impact possible.”