Although a Santa Barbara jury awarded two property owners a combined $311,000 last week because Santa Barbara City Hall had abandoned the road — Ealand Place — leading to their homes, the attorney representing the victorious parties said he was “very, very disappointed” with the verdict and has vowed to appeal. Attorney Joe Liebman said the jury ignored evidence that the loss of road access cost his clients $750,000 in diminished property value. “Imagine the road to your house has just disappeared over night and the closest you can get to your house is now 150 feet away down a very steep deteriorated dirt path,” Liebman said.
City attorney Steve Wiley said the council abandoned the road because the ground underneath was geologically unstable, like many properties near Conejo Road, and that it would cost City Hall $4.5 million to repair. Those repairs, he added, might last only two years given how fast the earth is sliding. He expressed great relief that verdict was not larger.
Liebman said the city’s expert witness provided no estimate as to loss of property value. The jury, he said, was incorrectly given permission by the judge to ignore his expert witness. Liebman said he will ask Judge Thomas Anderle to reconsider, after-the-fact, his instructions to the jurors allowing them to decide for themselves what the loss of value was. Should Anderle decline, Liebman said, he’d file an appeal.
Liebman’s clients have lived in the mudslide-prone area since well before the 1980s, when City Hall put property owners on notice the terrain was too unstable for further development.