Court supports Naples Beach project

As the gavel fell in Santa Barbara Superior Court last week, a rare piece of Southern California remained in the crosshairs of a large-scale project aiming to build dozens of luxury homes over Naples Beach, a rural headland at the center of the fight against coastal development along the Gaviota Coast.

In 2008, after the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a 71-home development project for the largely pristine ranch land, the beach town's chapter of the Surfrider Foundation teamed up with the Naples Coalition and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and sued. Their complaint cited violations of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the county's own General Plan. Last week, Judge Thomas Anderle disagreed with most of the lawsuit's allegations, upholding the 2008 approval.

"The county made both errors of fact and law [when it approved this plan]," EDC attorney Nathan Alley told the court. "They are of extreme prejudice, and they cut to the very heart of what the CEQA process is all about."

Anderle's ruling essentially prolongs the possibility that dozens of mansions, guest homes, garages, and an equestrian center will take root along the eastern gateway of the Gaviota Coast, a mostly undeveloped 50-mile stretch between Winchester Canyon and Point Conception. For decades, environmentalists have argued that such large-scale projects will mark the beginning of the end for the region, setting the stage for future development to leapfrog up the coast.

"Our struggle has been to keep this place as it is," Surfrider's Santa Barbara Chapter Chair Sandy Lejeune told ESPN.com. "Sure, we're disappointed with [Anderle's] decision, but in the court of public opinion, I think we're winners. [The lawsuit] bought us four years to get the word out and to strengthen our position."

The Naples fight, Lejeune added, has caught the eye of Surfrider's board of directors, who have placed the issue on their global radar, garnering "worldwide support."

Lejeune said that the next logical step will move the battle to the California Coastal Commission and, perhaps the Court of Appeals.