Fearing that the public-access deal struck between the Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association (HROA) and the State of California could make it next to impossible to someday create a coastal trail between Gaviota State Beach and Jalama Beach County Park, environmental groups are urging the California Coastal Commission to back out of the controversial arrangement. The settlement — announced in May after five years of litigation in Santa Barbara Superior Court — would allow public access to the narrow beach at Cuarta Canyon (pictured) only by sea. It also would erase an irrevocable offer to dedicate overland access that was established decades ago when the YMCA sought to develop a camp on ranch property it owned at the time.
“The public’s right to access the ocean is guaranteed by the California Constitution, and the Coastal Commission is charged by the Coastal Act to maximize public access to and along the coast,” states a letter signed by representatives of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, California Coastal Protection Network, Coastwalk, Santa Barbara County Trails Council, and Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club. “However,” the letter goes on, “36 years since the legislature specifically directed the State Coastal Conservancy ‘to implement, as expeditiously as possible, the public access policies and provisions of [the Coastal Act] at the Hollister Ranch,’ there is still no public access whatsoever to any portion of the 8.5 miles of beach.” The groups are also critical of the deal’s proposed use of Hollister Ranch development fees to expand existing access programming for schoolkids and disabled veterans when that money is earmarked to help create access for the general public.
The letter is one of nearly 1,400 fielded by the commission ahead of its July 13 public hearing on the settlement, to be held in Santa Cruz. While Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne has given the deal her tentative approval, she also invited interested parties to intervene in the case by July 23.