Hollister Ranch Settles with State to Provide Limited Public Access

A Stretch of Beach to Be Accessible by Sea Only

The mouth of Cuarta Canyon
Courtesy Photo

A settlement reached between Hollister Ranch and the State of California will open to the public a beach inside the ranch and expand existing access for students and nonprofit groups. Struck after five years of litigation between the Hollister Ranch Owners Association and two state agencies — the California Coastal Commission and the California State Coastal Conservancy — the settlement grants “the public to use a portion of the Hollister Ranch, with access only from the ocean via surfboard, paddleboard, kayak, or soft-bottom boat,” according to a statement by Steve Amerikaner, representing the association.

The beach, located at Cuarto Canyon, roughly two miles west of Gaviota State Park, is about three quarters of a mile long. The public will have use of the beach between the waterline and the base of the coastal bluffs. The settlement does not authorize public access to any other portion of the ranch, and visitors will not be allowed to reach the beach through the ranch’s main gate or across land.

Another aspect of the settlement expands the existing Hollister Ranch Managed Access Program, which has accommodated school kids for more than 20 years, to create a permanent Tidepool School Program. Historically, the ranch has also invited disabled veterans and other underserved groups to enjoy its coastline; under the terms of the settlement, the ranch will open that programming to more nonprofits to serve 400 individuals annually.

A lone surfer slips out of his wetsuit after driving along to coast to access an otherwise-inaccessible beach below Hollister Ranch. Surfers and other outdoor-lovers are known to bike, drive, and walk along the coast to these remote spots.
Paul Wellman (file)

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by ranch owners against the state agencies as they sought to make good on public easements initially set up in 1970, when the Metropolitan YMCA of Los Angeles purchased a 160-acre parcel in Cuarto Canyon. Notarized in 1982, the offer of public access was written to satisfy the California Coastal Commission as it permitted the development of a YMCA camp on the property. While the YMCA camp was designed to accommodate 150 visiting members and upward of 50 staffers, the public access offer pledged to shuttle another 50 general public visitors per day from the ranch’s main gate to the beach at Cuarto Canyon.

The Hollister Ranch Owners Association pulled the plug on YMCA’s ambitious project by purchasing the property for $1.2 million in 1983. However, according to court documents, the public-access offer remained active, essentially grandfathered in as a property right predating the 1971 subdivision that created the Hollister Ranch and its owners association. Tasked by its enabling legislation to take advantage of the opportunity, the Coastal Conservancy picked up the offer in 2013. The ranch promptly sued, claiming the offer was established without the notification or permission of impacted property owners.

The settlement — which still needs Judge Colleen Sterne’s approval, pending public review — requires the development of fencing and signage along Cuarto Canyon beach, which would need to be approved by the Coastal Commission. Amerikaner said it’s unlikely that the beach will be opened to the public before the end of the year. He added that there are no plans to include bathrooms or port-a-potties at the site.

“The Gaviota Coast Conservancy [GCC] appreciates Judge Sterne’s requirement that the proposed [settlement] between the Hollister Ranch interests and the California Coastal Conservancy and Coastal Commission be made public for a review period,” said Phil McKenna, chair of the GCC’s land-use committee. “GCC intends to undertake that review of the facts, the law, and the terms of the proposed settlement.” Judge Sterne has preliminarily approved the settlement and has set a “Final Fairness Hearing” for September 10, 2018, according to a GCC statement. Applications to intervene are due July 23, 2018.


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