Friday, May 8, 2015
C.A. Sides With Neighbors in Fight Over Wozniak Property
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Santa Clara County officials must reconsider their approval of the use of the estate once owned by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as a venue for weddings and other events, the Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
A group called Keep Our Mountains Quiet presented sufficient evidence of noise and traffic impacts to require a full environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, the appellate court ruled. Among other things, the justices said that compliance with local noise ordinances does not necessarily preclude a finding under CEQA that a project presents significant noise impacts on the environment.
The property, in the Santa Cruz mountains near the boundary of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, is currently owned by Candice Clark Wozniak, a former world-class canoeist and kayaker who was married to Steve Wozniak from 1981 to 1987. It is more than 14 acres of land and houses vineyards for the Redwood Ridge Estates Winery, llama and alpaca grazing land, barns, and Candice Wozniak’s residence.
According to court documents, Wozniak began hosting events on the property in 2006, without permits. County officials investigated after a number of noise complaints were received.
Events held during that time were allegedly attended by between 150 and 300 guests each. The county informed Wozniak she was in violation of zoning laws.
She subsequently applied for a use permit allowing 28 events per year for 100 guests, on summer weekends between 2 and 10 p.m. After three years of study, the county adopted a mitigating negative declaration, finding that an environmental impact report was unnecessary because there would be no significant negative impacts on the environment as long as mitigation measures adopted by the county were implemented.
Those measures included aiming speakers toward an open space preserve on one side of the property, rather than in the direction of neighboring homeowners; posting a noise complaint telephone number; and monitoring by a qualified noise consultant paid for by Wozniak.
The county also limited the number of events involving live outdoor music to one for the first year, with further review after that.
The citizens’ group said the mitigation conditions were inadequate, and appealed unsuccessfully to the Board of Supervisors before petitioning the Santa Clara Superior Court for a writ of mandate. Judge Joseph Huber ruled that the petitioner presented substantial evidence to support a fair argument that the noise and traffic impacts would be substantial, meeting the CEQA standard to require an EIR.
Justice Eugene Premo, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct.
The justice cited testimony in the administrative record that even with the speakers pointed toward the preserve, neighbors heard “pounding music” during a wedding where a DJ was used, that live music would be even louder, and that neighbors could hear crowd noise—including “celebratory screams, hoots, cheers” and “hollers”—as well.
There was also evidence the noise was having adverse effects on mountain lions and bobcats living in the preserve, Premo said.
The jurist also expressed concern regarding traffic. There was evidence, he said, that allowing events at the property “will—at times—double traffic volume on a narrow, windy, substandard road with a history of accidents.”
The court also upheld an award of $145,000 in attorney fees to Keep Our Mountains Quiet under the private attorney general statute, which both sides had appealed. The petitioner argued that it should have received $176,000 plus a 75 percent enhancement because its lawyers took the case on a partial contingency, while Wozniak argued that the suit did not significantly benefit the public or place a disproportionate financial burden on the petitioner.
Premo said there was no abuse of discretion, so both appeals were rejected on the fee issue.
The case is Keep Our Mountains Quiet v. County of Santa Clara (Wozniak), 15 S.O.S. 2266.
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