Hollister Ranch Ruling Opens Legal Path for Trails Group

Court Battle Over Public Access Ongoing

Hollister Ranch
Paul Wellman (file)

In a February 8 ruling, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne maintained her position that the Gaviota Coast Trails Alliance be allowed to intervene in a 2017 settlement agreement struck privately between the Hollister Ranch Owners Association and a pair of state agencies over a decades-old offer to establish public access to a stretch of beach located behind the ranch’s gated entry.

While attorneys for Hollister Ranch had argued that Sterne’s job was to simply rule on the fairness of the settlement agreement to the hundreds of property owners within the 14,500-acre coastal ranch, her ruling essentially stated that the general public — while ostensibly represented by the state’s Coastal Conservancy and Coastal Commission — had not been given the opportunity to support or object to a deal that at its very core sought to extinguish the public’s right to establish overland access across private property to the beach in question.

According to statement released by the trail alliance — whose goal is to facilitate a public trail through Hollister Ranch, between Gaviota State Park and Jalama Beach — “[Sterne] ruled that the court must fully consider the alliance’s claims that the settlement agreement is illegal, and directed that the alliance file a cross-complaint to ensure that these claims are properly before the court.”

The trails group has strongly opposed the settlement agreement, which would open roughly one mile of Hollister Ranch oceanfront, at Cuarta Beach, to the public, but only via small watercraft.

Attorneys for the Hollister Ranch were not immediately available for comment.

The alliance’s filings are due in the coming weeks; a procedural hearing has been set for March 18.

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