Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Judge rules on development, says city violated law on Veronica Meadows project


A Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that the City of Santa Barbara violated CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) guidelines by approving the Veronica Meadows project – a 23-unit development, which it says poses “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts to the Arroyo Burro Creek area.
At the core of the issue is the proposed construction of a bridge over the creek that the applicant, Mark Lee, claimed would have taken strain off of nearby Alan Road.

Bill Parkin, of the law firm Wittwer & Parkin, LLP, who represented the Citizens Planning Association and Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council in a lawsuit filed against the city last January, said the Veronica Meadows project EIR identified Alan Road as an alternative to the “significant and unavoidable” impacts the bridge would cause to the creek.
But because the city didn’t deny the proposal for the bridge and recommend the use of Alan Road, Judge Thomas Anderle, in his tentative ruling, said the city needs to revisit the issue before any project can move forward.
“The court’s only concern is that the mandates of CEQA are complied with,” Anderle wrote. “It has therefore rescinded the approvals for the project as proposed, and sent he matter back to the city for proceedings (if any) in compliance with CEQA.”
By law, Parkin said the city either needed to deny the project or consider the Alan Road alternative.
“If the city had adopted the alternative this lawsuit wouldn’t have been filed that’s the bottom line,” Parkin said. “It is about complying with the law and making sure we protect the creek.”
The Veronica Meadows project was approved by the city council in December 2006.
Naomi Kovacs, executive director of Citizens Planning Association, said in a statement that the ruling “is an important reminder to our decision makers that they do not have the discretion to decide when and if they will follow our environmental laws.”
“It appears that in approving this project, the majority of council members ignored or forgot the role of CEQA and their obligations – both to the law and to the community,” Kovacs said. “The city is now on notice that it must look at mitigating and reducing impacts, and that it cannot simply override and disregard impacts to our environment.”
Anderle’s ruling goes on to say, “[CEQA] prohibits approval of projects as proposed if there are feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures available that would avoid or mitigate the Class I environmental effects of such projects… Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened here.”
Steve Amerikaner, legal counsel for Lee, said the applicant is at no risk of having any permits expire as a result of the ruling and said much of the work done up to this point on the project will continue to be useable.
“I remain optimistic that we will find a way to secure the permits to have a project built on this property,” Amerikaner said.
Messages left by the Daily Sound for Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum were not immediately returned. City Councilwoman Iya Falcone said she had not yet had a chance to read Anderle’s ruling and therefore could not comment.

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