By Ellen Pitcher, Daily Nexus, November 5, 1973
A routine application to this area’s regional Coastal Conservation Commission, asking that the City of Santa Barbara be allowed to construct a fence adjacent to the Goleta slough to meet FAA regulations may turn into a precedent-setting legal battle.
The Commission’s decision earlier this month that the city must build two fences and turn over management of the 360-acre wetland to the University of California is now being hotly contested by the City Attorney’s office in an appeal before the statewide Coastal Commission. A date for the hearing has not yet been set.
If the University declines the offer, then the commission has ordered the city to transfer control of the land, presently under its Airport commission, to the city Parks and Recreation Department, and to present a proposal for its management as a preserve to the Commission.
Casey Buchter, executive director of the regional commission, believes that once the application for the fence was before the commission, it had the necessary jurisdiction to transfer management of the area to a more capable agency.
The city thoroughly disagrees, not only concerning jurisdiction (the appeal states the commission “lacks the authority”) but with the basic proposal, which it finds “unnecessary, arbitrary and unreasonable.”
Also questioned by the appeal are charges that the city has been lax in managing the area as a preserve. “The city’s intent to maintain the slough area in its present wildlife condition was expressed by a unanimous vote of the City Council on Oct. 5, 1973. Since that date the city has taken no action contrary to that expression of intent,” according to the appeal.
“To my knowledge, they’ve done nothing to preserve it,” rebuts Buchter, spokesman for the local commission, which has been in operation since last year, in accord with Proposition 20.
The Coastline Commission was set up to act as a protection agency for coast land and all subsequent run-off areas. All alterations to that land must meet with its approval.
Buchter admitted that “the city is not set up to operate management of a natural reserve,” such as the commission requests. “They do not have the technical knowledge or finances,” he continued.
The University, through its Natural Land and Water Reserve System, has just such resources, according to the Coastline Commission. The system already contains many prime examples of particular environments, which it maintains in their natural condition and uses for research and teaching.
The question of primary importance before the State Coastal Conservation Commission remains the battle over jurisdiction, which, if the State Commission rules with the local decision, will go before the Superior Court in a civil suit, according to Barry Cappello, city attorney.
There is one technicality, however. If the city withdraws the application for the fence, the commission loses all authority concerning the slough. And the FAA, after witnessing the storm it has created, may revise its decision requiring the fence, according to Buchter, and hold that he slough is barrier enough for the airport.