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TO: Fight For The Coast

Scam of the Century

by: Nathan Post

The Gaviota Coast has been called the "Big Sur" of Southern California. It represents the last significant stretch of relatively undeveloped, open coastal land of this magnitude remaining in Southern California.

A hard fought battle is being waged between Jack Morehart and the County of Santa Barbara over the future of Naples. Located approximately 17 miles west of Santa Barbara on the beautiful Gaviota Coast, Naples was the dream of St. Louis businessman John H. William's. On a cruise to San Francisco, William's found himself taken with the natural beauty of the Santa Barbara County Coast. Upon viewing the coast in the vicinity of Dos Pueblos Ranch, the incurably romantic William's was reminded of the coast of Naples, Italy. In June of 1887, William's purchased 872 acres of land straddling Dos Pueblos Canyon. William's dreamed of attracting a wealthy social elite to Naples. It was a dream that was destined to fail. Despite great effort on William's part the businessman was unable to make a success of Naples. In the end, William's hoped that the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad would finally do what all the elaborate sales pitches had failed to do, bring investors to Naples. His dream was never to be realized. Naples was described by historian, Walker A. Tompkins, as a "dubious legacy." Over 100 years after John William's purchased what was to be the town site of Naples, Jack Morehart and the Morehart Land Company appeared on the scene claiming that they had a right to develop a large subdivision on site. The basis of their claim was an advertising brochure map pasted into an official record book located in the Santa Barbara County Court House.


Other than for a brief period, Naples and the property surrounding it has been in agriculture since 1842 when Nicholas A. Den was granted a Mexican land grant. John William's purchased the Dos Pueblos ranch in 1887. The property reminded the incurably romantic William's of Naples Italy, hence the name "Naples". William's dreamed of creating a town that he hoped would attract a wealthy eastern social elite to Santa Barbara County.

To accomplish his goal, William's launched a massive advertising campaign. Brochures described the luxurious, and spacious Crescent Beach Hotel, "where one may take his ease and enjoy the beach scenes." They spoke of boating on the Bay, and the "foaming cascades" of the Dos Pueblos River. Neither the Crescent Beach Hotel nor the Bay existed. The Dos Pueblos "river" also a product of William's active imagination, does not exist. William's was probably referring to Dos Pueblos Creek. Dos Pueblos creek's little estero, in reality no more than a duck pond, was pictured as a land locked harbor, with a twin-stacked ocean liner in port.

The brochures boasted that Lily Langtry, the famous actress, had invested in an entire block at Naples. While one of only two avenues that ever opened at Naples was named for Lily Langtry, described by historian Walker A. Tompkins as "the contemporary sex queen of the American and Continental Stage", Langtry had neither visited Naples nor invested in it. The streets of this paper city: Vesuvius, Pompeii, Napoli, Milano etc., never materialized. Only one street at Naples was ever graded. A chapel was built, but no services were ever held in it. Indeed, according to Walker A. Tompkins, "There is no record to indicate that surveyors ever located lot corners on the broad acres of Dos Pueblos mesa." Neither a blade of grass was planted, nor a municipal water system installed. "No curbing was laid; no paving ever put down; not one tree of any description was ever planted."

In 1917, Herbert G. Wylie purchased the Dos Pueblos Rancho from William's widow. Wylie's agent, A.B. Watkins, declared that, "Henceforth, the name of 'Naples' will be abolished. The property will revert to it's original Hispanic nomenclature -Los Dos Pueblos." Wylie proceeded to tear down the handful of ramshackle wooden buildings lining Naples central, unpaved street. He turned his energies to breeding racehorses, and blooded cattle. "The site of Naples became a walnut orchard."

In 1943 Sam Mosher, an avid agriculturist purchased the Dos Pueblos ranch from Herbert Wylie. Mosher left an astounding agricultural legacy. In 1977, seven years after Mosher's death, the Rancho Dos Pueblos was sold to the Morehart Land Company. Morehart and Company proceeded to divide the ranch into three pieces. Retaining the former Naples town site for himself, Morehart, with the help of clever land use attorneys, set out to create a checkerboard of family ownership specifically designed to undermine County zoning laws. It had the effect of preventing lot mergers. In November of 1989, then Deputy County Counsel, Shane Stark, characterized these land transfers as, "...a sham to get around the (merger) ordinance."


In Morehart V. County, the California Supreme Court invalidated the "merger" requirement of the County's Antiquated Subdivision Overlay District. The Antiquated Subdivision Overlay District required that substandard size lots (dinky lots) located within antiquated subdivisions comply with the current minimum lot size requirement of a particular zone district, to the extent feasible given ownership patterns. In other words merger was to be encouraged where possible, but you could not force the merger of properties that were not contiguous.

In Santa Barbara County there are 14 Antiquated and what are known as "other" early plats. A "plat" is a plan, chart or map of a town site. Antiquated Subdivisions are essentially "plats" or development proposals drawn up prior to 1893. Until recent times the antiquated plats of Santa Barbara County were for the most part forgotten relics of little relevance or importance. That would all change when the Morehart Land Company decided to purchase the productive Dos Pueblos ranch in 1977. Morehart proceeded to divide the ranch into three sections retaining the former Naples town site for himself. With visions of dollar signs floating in their heads, the Moreharts, with the assistance of clever land use attorneys proceeded to further divide the ranch into what were once envisioned as Naples City blocks. Members of the Morehart family then distributed these among 13 Morehart family members and five family owned corporations. In a number of cases, the transfer of ownership occurred without money changing hands. While Morehart family members or companies might own more than one lot at Naples, none of the lots were adjacent to one another. This had the effect of thwarting the County's "merger" requirements.

Much has been said about the Morehart decision but it is important to recognize that the Morehart decision, despite what anyone may tell you, was 'narrowly' drawn. Indeed, the court went out of it's way to state that the County of Santa Barbara may not only establish minimum lot sizes for development but require owner initiated merger consistent with Map Act standards.

In a nutshell, the County's merger requirement was in conflict with the State Subdivision Map Act because the Map Act does not permit the County to require the merger of lots greater than 5,000 square feet. The court made it clear that the "status" of paper subdivisions has not been resolved."

The Court has essentially confirmed the County's right to regulate development in the best interests of the community. The State Supreme Court clearly stated, that, "The Act's (Subdivision Map Act) merger provisions do not preempt zoning ordinances that require, as a precondition of development, the merger of parcels that could be merged by ordinance under section 66451.11. Nor do the merger provisions affect the applicability of zoning ordinances requiring minimum parcel size for development so long as the requirements are not conditioned upon parcel merger." Echoing this opinion, the Santa Barbara County Agenda Letter, for the Board of Supervisors, issued for December 10, 1996, regarding proposed Ordinance Amendments for Substandard Lots (dinky lots) remarked, "...the authority of the County to 'just say no' was confirmed by the Supreme Court in Morehart."

In response to the Morehart decision the Santa Barbara County Board of supervisors rescinded the 1984 ASO ordinances and initiated Ordinance Amendments to regulate development on antiquated lots. These efforts were unsuccessful since developers and their supporters on the board were not interested in agreeing to anything that might limit their development options.

Following the State Supreme Court decision on Morehart, the County was once again faced with the question of parcel validity, and the regulation of antiquated lots. The County considered a number of alternatives, including those advocated by certain Naples property owners, asking for recognition of antiquated maps as "Official Maps". While some claim that the 1888, 1909 or 1937 "Official Map" of the County constituted an "Official Map", the statute under which the map was approved was for official "assessment" maps and not under the "Official" city, county and town plat maps statute which came into being in 1903. None of the "Official Maps" accurately reflects the 1888 Plan of Naples, upon which Morehart's claims are based.

In December of 1994, the Board of Supervisors directed the County Counsel and Surveyor to prepare an Official Map of Naples. It was said that an "Official Map" would merely confirm the legal status of existing parcels, and as a result, "does not in any way approve or predict the possibility of future development of any parcels so delineated." The above statement offers little in the way of comfort when it is recognized that, A. "A local agency is directed to issue a certificate of compliance for each lot which is legally created." And B. One of the purposes of a Certificate of Compliance is, "to estop any challenge to the legitimacy of a parcel subsequent to the issuance of the certificate ." A Certificate of Compliance is, in a sense, a development permit in that it recognizes parcel validity thereby opening the door to development.

In an effort to create an "Official Map of Naples", the County has recognized three methods of parcel creation or recognition: 1.) Creation by deed; 2.) Recognition of Certificates of Compliance already issued; and 3.) Creation of town blocks by interposition of dedicated streets. Recall if you will that "...all references in any deed found in the Naples area are to the 1888", Plan of Naples, "advertisement map pasted into the Official Records Book C, page 9."

The Morehart claimants are asking the County to recognize over 400 separate parcels. It is only fair to ask, what exactly is the legal basis for Morehart's claims? According to the County Counsel, the court has determined that antiquated maps could describe property conveyed by deed if 'the map reference was sufficiently accurate in it's description', but the court has not resolved the status of paper subdivisions! Even if they had, maps that are utilized to identify parcels at Naples are anything but accurate.

The "Plan of Naples" advertisement map that is used to identify Naples parcels states that Naples is 17 miles west of Santa Barbara, and that the Dos Pueblos Creek is the Dos Pueblos River. If Naples is indeed 17 miles west of Santa Barbara, then one must ask where does that measurement begin and where does it end? Needless to say, the map and the brochure that describe it are riddled with inaccuracies. If one were to draw a line directly west of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, and extend it a distance of 17 miles, he or she would end up in the Pacific Ocean. Can such a map accurately describe the parcels in question? Naples Deeds are referenced to the "Plan of Naples" advertising brochure map mentioned above. The County Counsel described the "Plan of Naples" map as "sorely lacking in surveying data." Having studied the issue thoroughly, County Counsel concluded that, "Because there is no colorable claim that the 1888 Plan of Naples or early County maps constitute an Official Map of the town of Naples, staff has recommended adoption of a modern official map... ."

Under "Map Alternatives" section D of the Santa Barbara County Agenda Board Letter, dated July 1995, "the primary sources of mapping data were the original 1888 map," a joke if there ever was one, "the 1929 O'Neill Survey and Caltrans Right of Way Surveys." Metes & Bounds descriptions were also used and considered significant and often "paramount" in determining boundaries.

"Since the original 1888 map was sorely lacking in surveying data, the interpretations and assumptions made in the 1929 record of survey were followed. However, where there is a clear difference between the layout of lots on the 1888 map and the 1929 survey, the intent of the 1888 map was followed where practicable." It should be apparent that nobody knows exactly where Naples is. As for the O'Neill Survey, it was conducted over ten years after Naples was demolished.

If we are to take Moreharts's claims seriously then we must recall that over one hundred years have passed since Naples founding. Streams are likely to have altered course. A great deal of bluff erosion has occurred. To compound the difficulty, it is exceptionally doubtful that Naples was laid out properly to begin with. The Southern Pacific right of way, a much-utilized reference point, was very likely improperly aligned when the railroad arrived in 1901. Indeed, numerous lawsuits were filed against Southern Pacific on both sides of Dos Pueblos Ranch by landowners angered by SP's cavalier attitude and "gross violation" of contracts for depot location and right of way. Considering the above, one must logically conclude that the "Official Map of Naples" is fatally flawed.

The effort to construct an Official Map of Naples, like Frankensteins's monster, represents an attempt to stitch together and bring to life a past made up of ill-matching parts. More importantly, recognition of Moreharts extravagant claims at Naples represents a supreme act of insult to the people and County of Santa Barbara, as it essentially acts to nullify the intentions and resolve of the people of Santa Barbara County as expressed by their representatives. It could also spell the beginning of the end for the beautiful Gaviota Coast.

Since Naples lots extend into what remains of Dos Pueblos Ranch, recognition of these lots could eventually lead to the extension of the urban limit line far beyond Naples.

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