Super. Ct. No. 1301776 Santa Barbara County
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coffee, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
The City of Santa Barbara (City) approved the development of 25 single-family homes. The project was to be constructed by real parties in interest and appellants, Peak-Las Positas Partners and its managing partner, Mark Lee (Las Positas). The City and Las Positas wished to provide access to the development via construction of a concrete bridge and roadway, which would create a significant (Class I) environmental impact to Arroyo Burro creek.
Citizens Planning Association and Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council (CPA) filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, requesting the trial court to enjoin the development. CPA alleged that voter approval was required before construction could begin. Pursuant to the City Charter, the City may not encumber parkland without a vote, and the bridge and roadway would cross over City-owned parkland. The trial court agreed, and issued a peremptory writ of mandate enjoining development until the matter could be placed on the ballot. We affirm.
On December 19, 2006, the City approved a development project known as Veronica Meadows. It involved construction of 25 two-story homes ranging from 1,800 to 4,500 square feet. The total project size was approximately 50.5 acres, with the homes occupying approximately 14.8 acres. The remaining 35.7 acres, largely constrained by slopes and other hazards, was to be dedicated as open space. The proposed development site is located within the unincorporated area of the Las Positas Valley, between Arroyo Burro Creek to the east, and Campanil Hill to the west. The southern portion of the property is located in the coastal zone. The site is currently undeveloped with access via Alan Road. The property was to be annexed from the unincorporated area to the City. A bridge would originate at Las Positas Road and span Arroyo Burro Creek to provide access to the project.
The City's approval provided for only three lots to have access via Alan Road. In 2008, a revised environmental impact report (REIR) was prepared pursuant to the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) It specified that the remaining 22 lots were to have access over the bridge and roadway built "over a City-owned open space parcel" and span Arroyo Burro Creek. The bridge would measure 140 feet long and 31.67 feet wide, with two 10-foot travel lanes and two 4-foot sidewalks. Street lights would be placed at each end of the bridge, which would intersect Las Positas Road. The bridge and road would occupy a 5.89 acre parcel. A bicycle path would run through the site, using the interior roads.
It is undisputed that the bridge will cause significant and unavoidable (Class I) environmental impacts to Arroyo Burro Creek. The REIR provided that the project includes "habitat restoration along both banks of Arroyo Burro Creek" and notes that "[m]uch of the restoration would occur on a City-owned open space parcel . . . ." The REIR specified that one of the project objectives was to "[i]mplement a creek corridor restoration plan to improve habitat and water quality along Arroyo Burro Creek consistent with City creek policies and programs." Las Positas argues that the bridge construction will provide public recreational uses by creating access to Arroyo Beach and nearby parks (Elings Park and the Douglas Family Preserve), as well as access to pedestrian and bicycle paths within the project.
CPA filed a petition for a writ of mandamus on both CEQA and non-CEQA grounds, requesting the trial court to enjoin further development. CPA alleged that, pursuant to section 520 of the City Charter (hereafter section 520), the City may not encumber City-owned parkland without a vote of the electorate. At a hearing on December 9, 2008, the trial court denied the writ petition as to the substantive CEQA issues. However, it issued a peremptory writ of mandate enjoining the City from constructing a bridge or road over City-owned parkland without first obtaining voter approval, pursuant to the City Charter.
The trial court issued a 33-page statement of decision detailing its analysis and the parties' litigation history. It indicated that "[w]ithout the necessity to provide ingress to and egress from the private residential development, there would be no bridge and road. With that necessary clarification, it becomes readily apparent that, regardless of whether the rights granted to construct the bridge and road are [by] an easement or an encroachment permit, such rights encumber the City-owned property, and are not compatible with or accessory to the use of the property as parkland." CPA was awarded attorneys fees of $175,888. Las Positas filed a notice of appeal, challenging the trial court's interpretation of the City Charter.
Interpretation of Section 520 of the City Charter
When considering matters of statutory interpretation, we exercise our independent judgment and review the matter de novo. (Carson Citizens for Reform v. Kawagoe (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 357, 366; Simpson v. Unemployment Ins. Comp. Appeals Bd. (1986) 187 Cal.App.3d 342, 350.) The same principles that apply to statutory construction also apply to the interpretation of city charter provisions. (Arntz v. Superior Court (2010) 187 Cal.App.4th 1082, 1092, fn. 5.) To construe a provision that has been adopted by the voters, we must ascertain their intent. (Id. at p. 1091; (International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers v. City and County of San Francisco (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 213, 224-225.) "'If the language is clear and unambiguous there is no need for construction and courts should not indulge in it. [Citation.] However, this plain meaning rule does not prohibit a court from determining whether ...