Gaviota, CA: The Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association (HROA) is disappointed with Judge Sterne’s ruling yesterday, permitting the Gaviota Coast Trail Alliance to intervene in the litigation between the HROA, the California Coastal Conservancy and the California Coastal Commission.
State law designates the Coastal Conservancy and Commission to represent the interests of the public with respect to coastal access and preservation. They actively litigated this case for four years, and aggressively negotiated the settlement reached with the HROA. “Replacing the State’s legal representatives charged with enforcing and upholding the Coastal Act in favor of a small, local advocacy group with a narrow perspective doesn’t make sense,” said Steve Amerikaner, attorney for the Association.
The trail advocates want to undermine the public benefits of the existing settlement between the State and the HROA. According to the State, the Settlement is the best outcome of the litigation. As explained by Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth in a presentation to the Commission on July 13, if the State prevailed in this litigation, the public’s ability to visit Hollister Ranch beaches would be limited, expensive, and dangerous. (See Ainsworth’s July 13, 2018 Information Briefing at: https://www.coastal.ca.gov/hollister-ranch/ )
Visits would require a bus trip, a walk through sensitive riparian habitat, and passage through a long, unlighted drainage tunnel with uncertain footing, under railroad tracks and a drop to the beach. Under these circumstances, only the most physically fit could reach Cuarta Beach. The route would be inaccessible to many, including people with mobility impairments and young children, and would often, and unpredictably, be closed because of beach conditions and weather. The beach has no restroom facilities, lifeguards, emergency or cell phone services. The State has publicly said that it doesn’t have the funds to operate the bus or implement this method of beach access.
In contrast, the settlement provides access to Cuarta Beach, as well as prioritizing additional opportunities for individuals with disabilities, those from underserved communities, and children. This program will provide the opportunity to visit Ranch beaches for those that likely would not have meaningful access should the State prevail in the litigation. Under the settlement, the HROA also commits to continuing operation of a Tidepool School, wherein trained docents teach local elementary school children about the intertidal zone at the Alegria Preserve. These programs will be run in perpetuity.
Monte Ward, President of the HROA reacted to the news of the intervention, “The State and Hollister Ranch reached an agreement providing expanded public access with an emphasis on vulnerable and underserved populations. The trail advocates instead are focused on a coastal trail, which was never at issue and cannot be achieved through this litigation. It’s not clear how their intervention better serves the public interest.”