The San Diego Union-Tribune: Judge takes welcome stand: California coast belongs to all

February 22, 2019

For nearly 40 years, owners of homes at the private, gated Hollister Ranch subdivision northwest of Santa Barbara have bitterly opposed efforts to provide the public with access to the ranch’s 8.5 miles of coastline.

In late 2017, this obstinance paid off when coastal regulators agreed to a deal in which the public was granted access to a three-quarter-mile section of beach — but only to those using a “surfboard, paddleboard, kayak or soft-bottom boat.” There would be no regular land access to the shoreline, which is near Gaviota State Park beach.

Unsurprisingly, this infuriated activists in the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, who filed legal challenges to the decision on the grounds that it violated the clear intent of state laws guaranteeing public access to beach areas. And on Feb. 8, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne agreed with them, saying that Hollister Ranch officials had failed to demonstrated the deal was “fair and reasonable.”

While Sterne refused to ratify the decision, she didn’t throw it out. Instead, she laid out the steps that critics could take to have it formally repudiated by the state, starting with a lawsuit targeting the secret process that coastal regulators used to craft the settlement.

Sterne’s decision should send a message to the Coastal Commission, the Coastal Conservancy and other state agencies dealing with beach access issues: Stand your ground no matter what against the rich landowners who seek to defy the plain intent of state laws and keep beaches to themselves. The California coast belongs to everyone. — The San Diego Union-Tribune