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3rd Montecito Fire Station
updated: Apr 16, 2013, 3:17 PM

Source: Montecito Agricultural Foundation

On Tuesday, Judge Thomas P. Anderle of the Santa Barbara Superior Court ordered the Montecito Fire Protection District (MFPD) to vacate approval of the 3rd Fire Station and its accompanying Environmental Impact Report, stating that the approval was "fatally defective" in relying on the proposed site's zoning for up to 93 estate homes instead of the actual current use as productive agriculture when performing the required environmental analysis.

Judge Anderle's ruling made clear that the District failed to follow the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and did not analyze the impacts to existing agriculture, but instead "simply assumed that the project site, and in fact all of Rancho San Carlos, was already residential" when it concluded that the proposed project "has no impacts to agricultural resources."

"The semi-rural, semi-agrarian nature of the Montecito community is highly prized by many of its residents. In the interests of full disclosure, both the direct and indirect impacts on agricultural resources should have been evaluated in the review documents. The public was entitled to a proper evaluation, based upon direct and current impacts, rather than being led to believe that full build-out of the Rancho San Carlos property was a fait accompli which would not even be discussed in the EIR," stated Judge Anderle's ruling.

The Judge also noted, "The EIR could not properly determine whether the project's impacts to agriculture were cumulatively considerable, when it already assumed that most eastern Montecito lands currently in agricultural projects, including much more than just the project site, did not count as existing agricultural use because the lands had been zoned for residential use."

"The Fire District and their consultants wanted to pretend that there were already houses on the site instead of highly productive agricultural orchards, when they performed their studies. I and other local residents tried to bring our concerns about the deficiencies in the environmental review to the prior Fire Board's attention prior to their approval of the location for a third fire station, but they just would not listen. We had no other choice," said Brian Reekie, a member of the Montecito Agricultural Foundation (MAF), which filed the lawsuit against the district.

In November, voters approved expansion of the Fire District Board from three to five members, and three new members were elected. At the February meeting, the Board voted to withdraw the pending application for County approval until the outcome of the legal challenge was determined. The MFPD Board met at their regular monthly meeting on Monday, shortly after Judge Anderle posted his tentative ruling, however since the item was not on the agenda, there was no discussion of the matter at the Board meeting.

"We are happy that the new Board seems to want to work with the community on finding an appropriate solution to meeting the needs for fire and emergency medical services in Montecito," said Denise Allec, President of MAF. "This ruling will allow the new Board and the community to carefully evaluate the needs of the District, and present an appropriate and affordable solution."

"Clearly, the Montecito Agricultural Association was right to bring this challenge," said environmental attorney Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Foundation. "The Montecito Agricultural Foundation has an interest in protecting Montecito's semi-rural character including the remaining agriculture and open spaces from unreasonable and inappropriate development. MAF's members are local residents with serious concerns regarding the inadequate environmental analysis presented by the District, including the failure to disclose Project impacts on existing agricultural resources. But these concerns were swept under the rug by the District in their haste to approve this ill-conceived project."

 

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