Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Wednesday that will open the exclusive beaches at Hollister Ranch to the public — the last remaining stretch of private-access beaches in the state. For more than four decades, wealthy Hollister Ranch homeowners fought tooth and nail to keep the beaches along the 8.5-mile coastline private, despite the State Legislature requiring them to provide wide public access in exchange for developing the ranch in 1982.
Assembly Bill 1680, written by Assemblymember Monique Limón, directs the California Coastal Commission, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the State Lands Commission, and the Coastal Conservancy to update the Hollister Ranch Public Access Program and truly enforce the law. Hollister Ranch is required to provide public pedestrian access to the beach by April 2022.
“This is a monumental victory for coastal access in California,” said Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, executive director of Azul, an environmental justice ocean conservation group. “Forty years after the passage of the Coastal Act, we are now on the verge of ensuring all of California’s beaches are truly open to all.”
The bill helps enforce public access by explicitly making it a crime for anyone to “impede, delay, or otherwise obstruct the implementation of” public access to these coveted beaches and surf breaks in Santa Barbara County. Those who do not comply may be punished by fines in excess of $10,000.
Hollister Ranch homeowners have long argued that the coastline is in such an immaculate condition because of their careful maintenance and that opening up the beach to the public would result in its deterioration. They’ve repeatedly cited worries that the public will litter on and destroy the land they’ve worked hard to preserve.
“We are disappointed in the Governor’s decision,” said Monte Ward, president of the Hollister Ranch Owners Association. More than 1,000 people who own a share of the ranch are represented by Ward’s association. “As we indicated in our letter to the Governor requesting a veto, we believe the courts will conclude that AB 1680 is unconstitutional.”
Marc Chytilo, attorney to the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, isn’t worried about the association’s apparent threats to sue.
“I’d have to go out on a pretty significant limb to guess as to what ground they could sue on,” Chytilo said. “All I can say to them is ‘knock yourself out,’ but I really can’t see what their argument could be.”
Ward and the landowners have so far been cooperative with public-access efforts this year, so he felt AB 1680 was unnecessary and could undermine their progress. In July, for example, the landowners allowed Santa Barbara County officials along with the California Coastal Commission, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the State Lands Commission, and the Coastal Conservancy to tour the stretch of beach. This was momentous, as in the past they barricaded the officials from even stepping foot on the beach.
“As a practical matter, we believe the legislation will prove to be an impediment to the current collaborative efforts and the state’s desire to enhance public access to the beaches at Hollister Ranch,” Ward said.
Jack Ainsworth, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, is pushing for Ward to continue the amicable relationship.
“We’re pleased with the governor’s actions and Assemblymember Limón’s leadership,” Ainsworth said. “For our part, we will continue with this collaborative process that’s already begun, and we hope all stakeholders will do likewise, but if not, this bill provides some important guardrails.”
[Update, October 11]: This story was updated to include when the beach is set to open to the public and remarks from attorney Marc Chytilo.