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County OKs Naples deal
Agreement allows 55 luxury homes

4/24/02

By MELINDA BURNS
NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER

Naples-by-the-Sea, a "ghost" city created on paper by land speculators in 1888, was reincarnated on Tuesday in an agreement between the county Board of Supervisors and an Orange County developer.

The supervisors voted 5-0 to sign a memorandum of understanding with developer Matt Osgood, allowing him to apply for up to 55 luxury homes on both sides of the freeway, two miles west of Goleta's urban boundary on the Gaviota Coast.

Mr. Osgood would preserve 20 acres of the 485-acre ranch at Naples for public use, providing a campground for bicyclists and a parking lot and trail to the beach. He would permanently set aside another 160 acres, or a third of the property, for orchards and cattle grazing.

Under the agreement, the Moreharts of Carpinteria, who are selling Naples to Mr. Osgood, would drop their lawsuits against the county. For nearly 20 years, the Moreharts have claimed the right to more than 400 lots, based on the map that was drawn up by starry-eyed surveyors more than a century ago. Modern-day zoning allows only agricultural uses at Naples, and only five lots for homes.

In explaining their vote Tuesday to an audience in no mood to compromise, the supervisors said the agreement with Mr. Osgood was the only way to ensure that Naples would not be eaten away by haphazard, lot-by-lot development. The deal, they said, would require comprehensive environmental review, numerous public hearings, and an exhaustive discussion of ways to save more of Naples for the public, including outright purchase of land.

"This is not an approval of a project," said Board Chairwoman Gail Marshall, whose district includes the Gaviota coast. "It is not an 'all-systems-go.' It is not an any-systems-go, for that matter.

"It isn't the lawsuits that make me uncomfortable. If we wait and allow the owners to begin applying lot by lot, we could end up with substantial development where we don't want to see it; and there's not much we could do about it."

But with multiple efforts under way to preserve the entire Gaviota coast from Coal Oil Point to Point Sal, the idea of a potential rezone of agricultural land and 55 homes at Naples was anathema to the members of the Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Barbareno Chumash and others who attended Tuesday's hearing. For one thing, they said, it would set a bad precedent, prompting other property owners to improve their development potential through lawsuits. Four other large landowners on the coast on three sides of Naples have already taken that step.

"I really believe the fate of the entire Gaviota coast is hanging in the balance," Ken Palley of Goleta told the board. "The vast majority of the citizens of this county would like to see that coast preserved. We'll take the chance of lawsuits. If you don't have the courage to stand up and fight now, when are you going to have the courage?"

The environmentalists asked for public hearings to draw up a competing preservationist proposal to Mr. Osgood's plan. They vowed to seek money from Proposition 40 funds, a parks bond that was recently approved by the voters of California to preserve Naples south of 101.

Members of Surfrider invoked the successful local efforts to save Ellwood Shores, the Douglas Family Preserve and the Carpinteria Bluffs, and asserted that nothing must be built on the Naples bluffs. The Santa Barbara Ranch, as Mr. Osgood has named his project, would include 16 houses south of 101, nine of them along the bluffs.

The opponents also objected to a clause in the agreement that allows for county consideration of 16 of the homes on the north side of 101 separately from the rest of the project. The remaining 39 homes are in the coastal zone and would require state Coastal Commission approval.

Keith Zandona, president of the local chapter of Surfrider, said: "The public still feels as if they have been left out. You are running in fear of lawsuits. The Gaviota coast should be on the endangered species list because it's all that's left in Southern California."

In casting her vote in favor of the agreement with Mr. Osgood, South Coast Supervisor Susan Rose noted that the county had tried and failed to force the Moreharts to merge their century-old lots in accordance with modern zoning. The county ultimately recognized the family's right to 233 lots without guaranteeing their right to build on all of them.

"We have litigated and we have lost, and I don't see any benefit to going down that path anymore," Ms. Rose said. "I've come to believe that at some point, sometime down the road, development will occur here. The memorandum of understanding is only the first step. We need to buy down as much of this property as possible."

Tuesday's vote marks the second time the county has struck a deal with Mr. Osgood. The first agreement, approved by the board in 1999, would have allowed him to apply to build up to 88 homes on the north side of 101 in return for selling the south side, about 222 acres, to a land trust. The deal fell through after the county declined to guarantee approval of all 88 homes and after a potential buyer for the south side of 101 backed out.

To date, Mr. Osgood has purchased 265 acres of Naples. He hopes to buy the rest from the Moreharts later this year.

After Tuesday's hearing, Mr. Osgood said he appreciated both the board's support and the public's comments.

"We have significant property rights on the property," he said. "We feel we're obligating ourselves to a public process and review by choice. We're willing to show some level of flexibility."

A disappointed Mr. Zandona, however, said the board's action would make it harder for environmentalists to halt the march of urbanization west of Goleta.

"Now we're in a situation where we're trying to downsize this project," he said. "This memorandum of understanding is going to drive it, no matter what everyone said up there. How are we going to start changing things?"