I have been reading with interest the unbalanced press coverage of the settlement of the litigation between the Hollister Ranch and the Coastal Commission over purported public access easements. As a coastal property owner and longtime rancher and farmer on the Gaviota Coast, I too have been the target of those who claim to have a “constitutional right” to use my private property to get to the beach. Those claims are practically and legally unsupportable.
Trail advocates are hoping to establish a Coastal Trail along the entire California Coast. What they fail to recognize is that the coastal area of Gaviota is dominated by working cattle ranches and farming operations that would be seriously disrupted and compromised by unmanaged public access passing through their operations. The special scenic character of the Gaviota Coast is created primarily by the ranches and farms that have been in existence for over 100 years. Those agricultural operations should be supported and protected, rather than sacrificed to serve the interests of a few trail advocates at the expense of ranchers and farmers.
There are important democratic values at stake as well. For over 200 years, our country’s core principles have required that private property only be taken for public purposes if the private owner receives fair compensation. The trail advocates realize that there is not enough money in the state treasury to purchase trail easements from private owners along the entire coast, and are pressuring the state to take private property without paying for it. The Coastal Commission learned three decades ago that the courts will not allow it, but that lesson seems to have been lost on the trail advocates.
Much of the public commentary about Hollister Ranch and other coastal ranches has reflected A Big Lie: Hollister Ranch and other Gaviota ranches are blocking public access to the public beach. In fact, there has never been public access across the private property at Hollister Ranch to the beach. The same is true for Hollister’s neighbors, like my ranch and those of my neighbors.
Hollister Ranch is asserting the same right to enjoy private property as any other property owner in the United States. These rights are recognized and protected by the U.S. and California Constitutions, and by the California Coastal Act. Those who cherish our constitutional rights should be standing with Hollister Ranch and all property owners. Private property is one of the key fundamental rights of what makes America, America.