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ECOLOGY WATCH : Enough, Already

January 06, 1991

The California Supreme Court has cleared the way for a 400-room Hyatt resort-hotel on a beach in Goleta, just up the coast from Santa Barbara. To hear opposing counsel tell it, this is either a devastating blow to environmental activism or a blank check for developers. In fact, it is a quiet and unanimous pat on the back for common sense.

The court drew largely on language of earlier opinions, reaffirming that justice has a beginning and an end, offering a seeming comfort to all sides.

The issue involved the adequacy of an environmental impact report on the Hyatt proposal, specifically the question of whether the report examined closely enough the use of other property in the area as alternatives to the site Hyatt chose on Goleta's Haskell Beach.

Hyatt started on the project 11 years ago, with plans for a 547-room hotel. Area residents negotiated that down to 400 rooms. The Coastal Commission approved. Santa Barbara County cleared it after a series of 47 public hearings.

Then a group of Goleta citizens sued the property owner on the grounds that an environmental impact study had not examined alternative sites. A Superior Court agreed. The study was expanded, but the citizens' group complained that it did not consider four sites that the citizens' group later found.

What the Supreme Court ruled, in effect, is that writing an impact report is, or at least ought to be, a finite process and that the citizens' group had its chance to bring up its alternatives as part of the process, not as a means of starting a whole new process. That's hard to argue with.

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