Hollister Ranch | Credit: Paul Wellman

Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association sued multiple state officials Thursday over the public-access beach law that went into effect this month. 

The lawsuit is over Assembly Bill 1680, written by Assemblymember Monique Limón and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in October. It 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 public-access law.

The bill enforces that 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. According to the law, those who do not comply may be punished by fines in excess of $20,000.

The Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association has battled state officials and public access advocates for more than 40 years to maintain its 8.5-mile long coastline as private access, despite the State Legislature requiring them to provide wide public access in exchange for developing the ranch in 1982. They’ve repeatedly cited worries that the public will litter on and destroy the pristine beaches they’ve worked to preserve. 

Last year, the two sides seemed to have found a middle ground and began working on an agreement that would satisfy them both — until the association felt that the agreement was not honored by AB 1680.

“When AB 1680 was originally written, we had no objection and recommended more realistic

deadlines, which were adopted,” said Monte Ward, president of the Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association. 

“But then the political ‘gut and amend’ process took over and AB 1680 was transformed, without hearings or debate, into an overreaching and unconstitutional bill that tramples on protections of due process, illegal search and seizure, free speech, and the taking of private property without compensation,” he continued.

Ward’s lawsuit, although not entirely unexpected, could throw a wrench in what the California Coastal Commission and other public-access advocates dubbed a major victory. 

“Regrettably, I am not surprised by the lawsuit regarding AB 1680,” Assemblymember Limón said. “Access to the public beaches in this area have been litigated for almost four decades, and it was time for someone accountable to the constituents of this area to bring stakeholders to the table to find a solution.”


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