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Legal Fight to Preserve Agricultural Heritage in Santa Ynez Valley Ends in Success

March 25, 2024

Developers withdraw appeal of decision to deny subdivision of 4,000 acres of farmland

SANTA BARBARA, CA – The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) celebrated the withdrawal of an appeal by developers, leaving in place a Superior Court decision in favor of preserving agriculture in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The multi-year effort by developers to subdivide the 4,000-acre historic Rancho La Laguna into 13 parcels could have resulted in construction of over a dozen high-end residential estates. A nearby massive development by one of the same developers was listed for $21.5 million and marketed as a “plantation style manor house” with “endless manicured lawns,” an enormous swimming pool, a barn for eight horses, and other amenities.

“The withdrawal of this appeal by the owners of Rancho La Laguna brings a decade-long battle to protect the agricultural integrity of this large agricultural property to an end.  Dividing this land into smaller lots for large residential development would have undermined not only the agricultural value of this property, but also of the Santa Ynez Valley, since farming and ranching are a key part of the Valley’s heritage,” said Carla Frisk, a member of SBCAN’s Board of Directors. “Finally, withdrawing this appeal will also help to ensure the protection of the property’s significant natural resources that make this area so beautiful.”

The owners of Rancho La Laguna, including a Hollywood producer, sued the County in 2017 after the Board of Supervisors denied the subdivision. EDC, on behalf of SBCAN, intervened in the lawsuit to defend the County’s action. In 2023, a Santa Barbara Superior Court ruled against the developers in their lawsuit, upholding the County’s denial of Rancho La Laguna’s proposal to subdivide. The developers appealed the Superior Court’s decision, but they have now withdrawn the appeal, formally ending the litigation.

“We can all breathe a sigh of relief that Rancho La Laguna will not be subdivided and will remain in open space and agricultural use, while continuing to provide critical wildlife habitat,” said EDC Chief Counsel Linda Krop. Approval of this project would have set a terrible precedent, literally paving the way for other development projects that would threaten critical agricultural land and biodiversity across Santa Barbara County.”

Rancho La Laguna is an incredibly rich and scenic property located in the San Rafael Mountains, bordering the Los Padres National Forest, and overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley. The land – full of rolling hills, deep canyons, and oak forests – is home to amazing biodiversity. Fifty-seven rare wildlife and plant species, including the California Condor, occur within this landscape and many currently coexist side-by-side with cattle grazing and farming.  

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The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection. EDC’s focus areas include protection of the Santa Barbara Channel, ensuring clean water, preserving open space and wildlife, and addressing climate and energy. 

Santa Barbara County Action Network works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities. SBCAN advocates a holistic approach to community planning that integrates housing, open space, and transportation to meet the needs of all members of our community and future generations. Learn more at www.sbcan.org

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