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Gaviota golf course rejected

March 6, 2003
By Morgan Green

A last-ditch effort to revive plans for a Gaviota Coast golf course failed Wednesday before the state Coastal Commission.

Acting quickly with scant comment, the commission voted 11-0 against the 200-acre Dos Pueblos Golf Links, echoing its decision in December against the plan. The commission also refused to discuss developer Makar Properties Inc.'s written offer to make the project more acceptable by scrapping one of two proposed golf courses and cutting the driving range in half to protect sensitive species on the property, which is just west of Goleta.

"The changes sound like a new project to me," said Santa Barbara Commissioner Gregg Hart, adding they would require the developer to start from scratch with an application to Santa Barbara County.

About 50 project foes representing a half-dozen or so Santa Barbara and statewide environmental groups cheered the commission's action, which took place at the Embassy Suites Hotel. But they were left wondering if it also means the death of a tantalizing offer made on the hotel sidewalk by a representative of the developer earlier in the day.

Rusty Arias, a former state parks chief and onetime Coastal Commission chairman, told the environmental groups he was hired by Makar last week to seek public and private money so the scenic seaside property could be purchased and preserved as natural habitat for the species that call it home, including the monarch butterfly, White-tailed Kite, southern tarplant and red-legged frog.

He indicated that Makar wanted the golf course opponents to support its request to postpone a commission vote for 30 days. Without that, a deal "would be a lot harder."Saying they were suspicious at the 11th-hour offer after 10 years of battling the developer, the environmentalists refused.

"We were having a hard time overcoming our sense that conservation out there would stand a better chance if a golf course wasn't waiting in the wings," said Mark Massara, spokesman for the Sierra Club in San Francisco.Makar attorney Steven Kaufmann said after the commission's vote that he did not know if the sale offer still stands.Mr. Massara was optimistic: "We're enthusiastic about working with them for an acquisition."The developer has another option.

Makar and CHP Dos Pueblos Associates LLC recently filed a lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court seeking $35 million in damages from the Coastal Commission for allegedly depriving them of reasonable use of their land.

The Dos Pueblos Golf Links plan has seen numerous reversals of fortune since the county Board of Supervisors approved it in 1993. The project was to include 18- and nine-hole courses, a clubhouse and related facilities.The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group, appealed to the Coastal Commission, but lost -- and subsequently sued. The developers won.

The property's former owner, Arco Oil and Gas Co., spent $11 million clearing the property of oil and gas drilling machinery. Then in 1999, three red-legged frogs, an endangered species, were found there, and the project's momentum slowed.Further examinations found that since environmental assessments in 1990 monarch butterflies increased in numbers, tarplant proliferated and white tailed kites moved in, with one of two nests producing five fledgelings.The commission axed the golf course in December 2002, saying changes to environmental conditions and expanded sensitive habitats rendered the developer's plans unacceptable.

Mr. Kaufmann told the agency Wednesday the project deserved another look because some incorrect information influenced the agency's earlier action. But the commission staff stated that Makar offered no new information or valid evidence of errors of fact, the legal requirements for a reconsideration.The motion on the issue reconsideration was made by Commissioner Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara, and seconded by Mr. Hart.