Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 17, 2023


Page 1


Judge Can’t Bar County Road Commissioner From Removing Encroachments—C.A.


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A judge of the Santa Barbara Superior Court improperly issued a preliminary injunction barring the county’s road commissioner from removing encroachments, placed by property owners in the area, along a public highway in Montecito, Div. Six of the Court of Appeal for this district declared in an opinion certified for publication yesterday.

The major encroachment was an unauthorized “no parking” sign by a hiking trail—despite the county’s determination that parking should be allowed there—and also included landscaping and boulders. Judge Thomas P. Anderle blocked removal pending compliance by the county with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) in connection with its “trailhead parking creation project.”

However, any violation of the CEQA, Justice Kenneth Yegan wrote in his July 19 opinion reversing Anderle’s order, “is not a defense to the commission of a crime,” and the preliminary injunction “allows adjacent landowners to encroach upon a public right-of-way, a misdemeanor offense.”

He declared that a Superior Court judge “may not enjoin a public officer, here the county Road Commissioner, from enforcing the law.”

Yegan went on to declare that “[t]he trial court may not allow CEQA to trump the criminal law.”

Property Owners’ Position

Petitioner/respondents Christopher Anderson; Ross Bagdasarian; Peter Barker; and James Morley argued in their appellate brief:

“Here, the County is trying to create an unlimited number of parking spaces specifically to allow more hikers to use the Hot Springs Trail, an ‘Environmentally Sensitive Habitat’ and a ‘red flag’ area….This project could easily bring thousands of additional hikers to trample this sensitive area every month. If there was a fire, all those additional hikers, with all their additional cars, would be added to the rush of residents trying to evacuate through Montecito’s already constrained roads.

“Yet, the County seeks to push this project forward without even the most basic consideration of its environmental impacts.”

They insisted that “the County launched this Project specifically to increase parking at the trailhead” and, “[a]s such, it is a ‘project’ for CEQA purposes.”

Exempt From CEQA

Yegan responded that “[t]he County meritoriously contends the trial court erred because CEQA does not limit its authority to enforce encroachment laws” and, in any event, “[t]he current project is properly considered a stand-alone project,” not part of any larger project, and is thus “categorically exempt from CEQA.”

He added:

“We conclude the trial court abused its discretion when it found County had no legitimate interest in enforcing the laws against encroachments and that respondents would be irreparably harmed by complying with those laws….[T]he record includes substantial evidence that encroachments in the public right of way present both fire safety risks and public safety risks to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. Even without that evidence, the encroachment statutes and ordinances themselves represent a legislative determination that the public interest is served by prohibiting and authorizing the removal of unpermitted encroachments in the public right of way. The public interest is served by their enforcement….”

The case is Anderson v. County of Santa Barbara, 2023 S.O.S. 2985.


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