In a tentative ruling Friday morning, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne granted the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance permission to become party to a case concerning public access to a beach inside Hollister Ranch, 14,500 acres of private property west of Gaviota State Park. The case pits the Hollister Ranch Owners Association (HROA) against two California agencies — the Coastal Commission and the Coastal Conservancy — over a public easement offer notarized in 1982, when the YMCA sought to build a recreational facility on an inland parcel and a day camp overlooking Cuarta Beach.
Earlier this year, HROA and the state announced they had reached a settlement. HROA agreed to expand its existing access programs for schoolchildren and nonprofits and to open Cuarta Beach to the general public — but only via ocean travel by soft-bottom boat or personal watercraft, roughly a six-mile round trip from Gaviota State Beach. As part of the deal, the state would forever give up any perceived rights to overland access, a caveat that prompted Judge Sterne to require both sides to notify the public of the settlement agreement. In May, she also ruled that qualified outside parties would be allowed to intervene in the case “to promote fairness by involving all parties potentially affected by a judgement,” according to a case quote from her tentative ruling.
A call to attorney Steve Amerikaner, representing HROA, was not returned before deadline.
Unless Sterne is compelled to change her mind during a hearing scheduled for August 27, the trail alliance now has the opportunity to argue that “the settlement is unfair, puts the public in harm’s way, and squanders an opportunity to establish overland access” along the main ranch road, said attorney Marc Chytilo, representing the alliance. “We’re thankful that the judge has recognized the significance of this case to the public and that we’re being given the opportunity to offer another point of view.”
Chytilo added that the alliance would ultimately support a coastal trail “all the way through Hollister Ranch,” and that establishing overland access to Cuarta Beach “would be an important first step.”