Donna Jones – Sentinel Staff Writer
WATSONVILLE — Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick on Monday dashed the hopes of city officials who were looking for something less than a total rejection of their long-range development plan. Burdick not only signed the final order implementing his earlier ruling that invalidated the 2030 general plan and its accompanying environmental review, he reinforced it with an injunction against moving forward with any project that is based on the planning document. At least one project, a proposed industrial building north of the airport, could be held up immediately by the order.
“It’s disappointing he set aside the whole thing,” said John Doughty, the city’s community development director. “We hoped he would allow us to go back and make really minor revisions and modifications. … We’re back at the 2005 general plan.”
Others have argued that the shutdown what the judge intended all along.
The lawsuit, brought by the Watsonville Pilots Association, Friends of Buena Vista and the Sierra Club, was primarily focused on the potential impact of future development west of the Watsonville Municipal Airport on 400 acres around Buena Vista Drive.
Burdick ruled the environmental review of the impact on aviation and Highway 1 traffic was inadequate, and that more development alternatives should have been studied. He also ordered the City Council to rescind a 2005 resolution eliminating some runway safety zones with the aim of increasing the amount and type of development permitted in the area — a ruling that, if not successfully appealed, will severely restrict growth in the area.
Bert Post, a member of Friends of Buena Vista, said he hoped the city would return with a plan “more in keeping with the community.”
“Obviously, we’d prefer no growth,” Post said. “If there’s going to be growth, it needs to be done in a framework that makes sense of the community and the available resources.”
Mayor Kimberly Petersen couldn’t say how the city would proceed. She said the council had been waiting for Monday’s order before deciding whether to appeal the decision.
The city has 60 days to appeal.
The order won’t stop the city and Santa Cruz County from continuing a controversial planning effort for development on 65 acres on Atkinson Lane off Freedom Boulevard, plaintiffs’ lawyers said. But the environmental review for the Atkinson Lane plan can’t be based on the study for the 2030 general plan.
Doughty said the ruling would affect owners of property elsewhere in the city that had been rezoned in the 2030 plan from moving forward with projects. (Editor’s Note: This is true, perhaps the housing developers that gave the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for the “study” will be disappointed).
And it’s raised questions about a proposed 40,000-square-foot industrial building at a business park off Manfre Road west of the airport. In a letter to the city earlier this month, the state Division of Aeronautics raised the judge’s decision in questioning the project.
Doughty said the industrial zoning predates the revoked general plan, but acknowledged the questions could delay the project.