The state Court of Appeal ruled against the city of Santa Barbara last week, finding that the city’s approval of the Veronica Meadows housing project violated the city charter.
The Citizens Planning Association and Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council filed suit in 2006, after the city council approved a 25 unit residential project near Las Positas Road and Cliff Drive and allowed for the construction of an access bridge on city park land without voter approval. Last week, the Court of Appeal declared the council’s 2006 decision to allow the use of city park land near Arroyo Burro Creek to be in violation of charter because the council went ahead without voter approval.
City charter requires a citizen vote before the council can demarcate city parkland for any other use than city parks.
According to LeeAnne French, executive director of the Citizens Planning Association, the organizations filed the lawsuit in order to ensure that city planners operate within legal guidelines.
“The issue is really that the city charter says that [if] the city is to encumber or sell or give away park land it has to get approval from the voters,” French said. “It is a legal fundamental issue that the city council did not have the right to approve the project without giving voters a chance to say, ‘yes it is okay; it is a minor use,’ or, ‘no we do not want our park land used that way.’”
In addition to addressing infringement on voters’ rights, French said the lawsuit also tackled the environmental impacts that would accompany a new bridge.
“Truly from the Urban Creeks Council perspective, the environmental impact report came out saying there would be significant class one impacts to the creek, and Arroyo Burro Creek is already a creek that has been identified that needs restoration,” French said. “There is already attention to that creek because it needs to be improved and here this project would significantly impact the creek, mostly from all the construction effort.”
According to a release of the State Appellate Court’s verdict, the bridge would create environmental damage at Arroyo Beach Creek.
Damages resulting from the access bridge would outweigh the benefits for the project, according to French.
“I mean, it is a bridge for private use [and] you would only access those 25 or 28 homes,” French said. “So, impacting the creek and taking the little bit of park land for private use like that is not such a good thing necessarily.”
Despite the verdict, attorney-at-law James Studer said construction can still continue if voters approve the project on a ballot.
“The appeals court has declared [that] in order to get a permit the city must first place the matter on the ballot in an election,” Studer said. “It must be approved by voters for them to go issue a permit, but since they already lost, it does not mean that they can not apply for a new permit, they just can not move forward.”