Rancho La Laguna withdraws appeal, Superior Court preservation ruling stands

After a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge ruled that the Board of Supervisors acted within its rights to deny the 4,000-acre Rancho La Laguna subdivision project, attorneys representing the developers filed an appeal to the decision. 

click to enlarge Rancho La Laguna withdraws appeal, Superior Court preservation ruling stands
File photo courtesy of Mark Oliver and the Environmental Defense Center
PROTECTING AGRICULTURE: Applicants for the 4,000 acre, Santa Ynez Valley subdivision project Rancho La Laguna withdrew their appeal to the Santa Barbara County Superior Court decision, allowing a ruling that supported the county’s denial and protected agricultural land.

That appeal was short-lived as the developers later withdrew it, letting the Superior Court decision stand, said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center.

“It maintains the current precedent, which is [that] these large ranches are zoned for ag,” Krop said. “The county has all of these programs to try to keep these large properties in agriculture; they’re really important for food production and maintaining the rural character of the county.” 

Rancho La Laguna first went before the county in 2010 with a proposal to subdivide 4,000 acres of ranch land near Foxen Canyon Road bordering Los Padres National Forest into 13 parcels for high-end residential estate development, according to previous Sun reporting. It was the first of its kind since the Board of Supervisors denied a similar project in 1995. 

The Environmental Defense Center and the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) got involved because the county hadn’t required an environmental impact report. After the county agreed and required an environmental impact report, the project went before the Planning Commission, which denied the project. The applicants appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors, and then to the Superior Court, after repeated denial. 

“In court, we had four separate hearings. The judge took claims one by one and we won four times,” Krop said. “It’s a huge relief and it sends a strong message countywide.” 

Attorneys representing Rancho La Laguna Company and Rancho La Laguna LLC couldn’t be reached before the Sun’s deadline. 

While SBCAN board member Carla Frisk said she’s thrilled that the ruling stands and the trial’s over, she’s keeping her eyes out for what comes next.

“When you get a denial of a project like this it’s not a denial forever; it’s only a denial until the next project comes along,” Frisk said. “You just don’t know whether someone will propose something completely different, and we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.” 

Frisk has fought the Rancho La Laguna development since it first went before the county, she said. As someone who also works in land preservation, she said the only way agricultural parcels can be protected in perpetuity is through an agricultural conservation easement—which is a legally binding contract that limits activities on the property to only agriculture. Easements are typically carried out by the landowner and the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, she said. 

“The person is buying the property as it is restricted by the easement. The easement does not run with the owner, it runs with the land,” Frisk said. “It’s a nice way of preserving the property without giving it away; it’s really the best of both worlds.”

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