The fate of the Naples coast is nearly sealed following a vote last week by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approving development at the seaside property.
The three to two vote — which gives Orange County developer Matt Osgood the green light to build dozens of “McMansions” along a stretch of pristine coastline a few miles north of Isla Vista — disappointed many in Santa Barbara County, a long-standing pro-environment hot-spot.
“There was not one person that spoke in favor [of development at Naples],” said 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who, along with 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, cast a dissenting vote, “and I had probably over 300 e-mails urging me to oppose [the development.]”
Despite the board’s decision, the issue is not yet sealed. Osgood must still present his proposal before the California Coastal Commission, which, according to Naples Coalition President Phil McKenna, may prove irksome for Osgood. Furthermore, Osgood can surely expect Santa Barbara’s various environmental groups to wage war against his development in the courts. Also coming in to play is that, come January, a new supervisor will be representing the 3rd District and shaking up the balance of power in the county.
“Matt Osgood had a tailwind at his back through the entire supervisor approval process,” McKenna said, “but he now must face the headwinds of the courts, the Coastal Commission and a new board of supervisors.”
A (Not So) Brief History
Osgood’s proposal to build 71 estate-sized homes at Naples, which was approved last Tuesday, has roots dating back long before his purchase of the 485 acre parcel in 1997. An 1888 paper subdivision, which allowed for 233 lots at Naples, was upheld by the California Supreme Court, thus ensuring Osgood’s legal rights to develop Naples.
The shape and size of that development, however, is an entirely different issue, and has been the topic of much debate in the decade since Osgood purchased the land.
In 2002, the county entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Osgood. The MOU stated that both sides would put a hold on legal bickering if the county would consider Osgood’s plan to take the 233 lots provided under the 1888 subdivision and reduce that to 54 lots. (The additional 17 lots result from a deal with neighboring Dos Pueblos Ranch, which was included in the board’s approval.)
The MOU was drafted for the development as whole, meaning any changes for the coastal zones would affect the entire project.
However, on Oct. 7, just one week prior to the first Naples approval hearing, the board of supervisors held a closed-door meeting and, in a three-to-two vote, changed the MOU so that the coastal project was separate from the inland project. This, in effect, took the inland lots out of the jurisdiction of the Coastal Commission.
“It was a failure of democracy and imagination,” McKenna said of the board’s actions. “The supervisors acted behind closed doors to facilitate the developer’s every dream.”
Brooks Firestone, 3rd District supervisor, defended his vote for altering the MOU.
“What people are not referencing is that because Osgood is a land owner, he has the right to sell the  lots and the buyers have the right to develop them that day,” Firestone said. “It’s not a question of whether [Naples will be developed], but how the development will happen.”
“It was a judgment call,” he added.
Courts, Commissions and a New Board
Despite last week’s vote, the fate of Naples is not yet set in stone.
According to Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Naples Coalition, his organization plans to file suit against the board in the Santa Barbara Superior Court and file an appeal to the CCC against all coastal permits.
Mike Lunsford, President of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and member of the Naples Coalition, reiterated the coalition’s plan to wage a legal war with the county and developer.
“We’ll be taking legal action against the county for improperly approving [the development] and for an abuse of digression, a faulty Environmental Impact Report and for breaking the project [in two],” Lunsford said. “By changing the provisions of the MOU, [the board] demonstrated a bias for the developer and attempted to remove a large portion of the project from the review of the Coastal Commission.”
Lunsford noted that it would be another six months to a year before development permits could be issued for the inland lots, giving the coalition ample time to act. He would not, however, specify on what grounds the Naples Coalition plans to sue.
As for the CCC, 3rd District candidate Doreen Farr said she expects Osgood to have an uphill battle getting his project approved.
“I’m not sure Osgood can even do what he plans to do,” Farr said. “I think if he has to go to the Coastal Commission for anything, he’ll have to wait.”
However, Firestone noted that the lots at Naples are guaranteed to the developer by the Supreme Court.
“The Coastal Commission is going to find itself in the same situation we’ve been it,” Firestone said. “It’s not a question of whether there will be development or not. The [California] Supreme Court found [the 233 lots provided by the 1888 subdivision] were legitimate and the Supreme Court trumps the Coastal Commission.”
Lunsford said the Naples Coalition never believed it to be an issue of preventing all development, but instead an issue of what form the development would take.
“We don’t anticipate stopping all development. Our objective is to maintain the rural character of the Naples area and to stop development [on the coastal terrace] south of Highway 101,” Lunsford said.
Steve Pappas, Farr’s fellow contender for the 3rd District seat, reiterated this same goal.
“[Naples] is more of a south coast issue and I’m not going to let it go,” Pappas said. “We need [the houses] off the beach, off the coast, period.”
Osgood’s march toward developing Naples is close to the finish line, but the board’s decision clearly hasn’t stopped the Naples Coalition from fighting back.
“I want the message to go out that things aren’t over yet,” Lunsford said. “This isn’t a settled matter.”