Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access title=
Hollister Ranch | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.


By Tyler Hayden of The Independent

A smorgasbord of options for opening Hollister Ranch’s six prized beaches to the public was unveiled this week, marking the first time in the decades-long debate over access that concrete proposals are being openly discussed. 

The lengthy menu is part of a 49-page Draft Conceptual Program published Thursday by the California Coastal Commission, one of four state agencies tasked with negotiating and formulating a final plan. A public Zoom workshop to review the report and solicit feedback is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. this Wednesday.

The draft program offers three main methods by which people might cut across the private ranch, a 14,000-acre working cattle operation and one of the last undeveloped sections of Southern California shoreline, to reach the public beaches below its steep coastal bluffs ― by shuttle, car, or trail, all either independently or guided. 

Each option has its own distinct set of pros and cons, the report states, including environmental impacts, costs and infrastructure needs, interactions with Chumash cultural sites, and effects on the homeowners living across 135 individual parcels. 

A free or low-cost shuttle service, for instance, would provide the most equitable access to the beaches, which the Coastal Commission notes more than once are a public resource to be enjoyed by all. It might also be the safest, as shuttle drivers would be familiar with the hazards of the ranch’s only road, including its sharp turns and drops and frequent obstruction by cattle. But funding could be a problem, the agency acknowledged, as even in State Parks with very high visitor numbers, user fees are generally not enough to cover costs.

Drive-in access by personal car would be the most flexible and inclusive for visitors of varying physical abilities, the Commission continued. But the necessary parking and traffic control measures would also likely represent the heaviest impacts to private property and coastal resources. 

A multi-use trail system for hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians would give users an up-close and personal view of the ranch’s ruggedly beautiful terrain. Enhanced access rights from multiple owners would be required, however, and steep topography might make construction especially difficult and expensive, the Commission said.

The various proposals are sure to elicit a range of reactions from both Hollister residents and members of the public anxious to visit the virtually untouched stretch of coast. Some will say the state goes too far with its ideas. Others will say it doesn’t go far enough. 

For his part, Ed De La Rosa, board chair of the Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association, called the draft report “a pretty ambitious vision” for the future of the historic property. He said he recognized, however, the difference between its more aspiring and its more feasible elements, given the constitutionally protected rights of the owners.

De La Rosa said he appreciated the state’s recognition of how “biologically and geographically special the Ranch really is,” especially taken alongside the adjacent Dangermond Preserve. “It represents a huge wildlife corridor,” he said. The report notes the presence of the federally endangered Gaviota tarplant, as well as protected animal species like the Coastal Range newt, western pond turtle, and two-striped garter snake.

De La Rosa was also encouraged by the consideration of the region’s many Chumash sites and the Coastal Commission’s clearly stated mission to introduce members of underserved communities to the wonders of nature. Most significantly, he said, the agency acknowledged how important ongoing conversations with the property owners remain. “The state, to its credit, points out a lot of logistical considerations that they need to talk to homeowners about,” he said.

Doug Kern, director of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and a member of the draft proposal’s working group, said he was “really actually optimistic” about how the report will be received, “given all the potential for difficulty.” On every side of the debate are “different personalities and interests and significant tensions,” yet “everyone is doing their best to thread a needle here,” Kern said. “I give everyone credit for coming to the table.”

The road ahead remains long, Kern continued, with any new overland access still likely a year or two out, especially with the delays to the process that the pandemic brought. Whatever final form the plan takes, it will be “limited, managed, and not hugely expensive,” Kern assured, and nothing will be set in stone given the unforeseen challenges that come from working with Mother Nature, “who always bats last.” “We will try everything in a careful way,” he said, “see what happens, and make adjustments.”

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a-1623859059 Jun 16, 2021 08:57 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

The State had an agreement to allow the YMCA to build a camp, which was inland and subsequently not built, in exchange the YMCA granted the State access over other peoples private property to get to the coast: the YMCA can't grant something it doesn't have. This is what CA Coastal Commission has spent tens of millions of dollar fighting. That could have easily covered the cost to repair the Gaviota boat hoist, which for decades provided public access to the Hollister Ranch coast and beyond.

Voice of Reason Jun 16, 2021 11:28 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

For facts and details about the prior YMCA agreement / offer to dedicate see pages 2 and 3. The state would have to build significant infrastructure and fund a shuttle service to a specific (dangerous) beach access trail all for a max of 50 visitors per day. The CA Coastal Commission isn't known for backing down and they agreed to settle this matter. Is this where our tax dollars should be spent? https://documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2018/7/f5/f5-7-2018-report.pdf

CanyonKid Jun 15, 2021 04:16 PM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

I read the plan and was hoping for something realistic. The plan is a mockery of private property rights and lofty expectations (demands). It seems like continued future litigation will be the end result.

The State can't manage our own State Parks, how are they going to escort/manage 500 people per day into one of the most environmentally sensitive stretches of beach we have remaining in SB County?

Always_Running Jun 15, 2021 05:30 PM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

Sounds like they will need to build a visitor center before the gate. Sign their consent forms that current visitors are required to sign (liability, assumption of risk, etc). Either walk, bike, or by horse to access the beach of choice. Maybe a fee for a self-driving van/truck to carry surf boards & gear.

SBTownie Jun 15, 2021 07:45 PM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

The plans are ridiculous. I understand the courts upholding citizens' rights to access beaches where existing easements were removed - like the guy up north who bought a property with a well-worn trail through it to the beach and then he tried to block it off. This is totally different. Requiring property owners to allow the public to transit their lands in order to get to the beach, when there has never been established access previously, is absurd. Why would we use tax payer dollars for this? We should have more coastline that the public cannot access, not less. I've never been to "the ranch" and I probably never will, but I've always liked knowing there is a largely undisturbed stretch of coastline nearby. It's the opposite of the hideous things I have witnessed at our public beaches here. Like the people in Carpinteria who take their off leash dogs right into prohibited territory and allow them to harass the seal nursery. I spent an hour nicely asking people to please leave the area as it was illegal to be inside of it (yes, it was during the breeding season) and to please keep their dogs away from the seals and all I got was a lot of weird looks and barely any compliance whatsoever. It made me so sick I told my partner that we could never go back to that beach, I was so upset. Allowing the public to access every square inch of the coastline is NOT a net positive. And the laws or rulings that uphold forcing private property owners to let whomever through their land to get to the beach are absurd and should be overturned.

Ahchooo Jun 15, 2021 08:22 PM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

The general public has proven to be irresponsible—littering, letting dogs run where they shouldn’t, etc. I’d prefer to keep the beach up there accessible to only those who can get there via the ocean—on boats or paddle boards, for example. I would, however, like the Hollister Ranch residents to stop harassing paddle boarders who want to set for awhile on the sand.

Not every public space has to be accessible to all the public. Let’s call this beach “wilderness” and not provide any land access. I personally will never be able to go there due to physical limitations. That’s okay. I won’t climb mountain peaks either. I like knowing there are places that are not being ruined by humans.

Alexblue Jun 16, 2021 10:37 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

I personally agree and would like to keep that entire area off limits to overland travel--and no I'm not an owner, but I have gone up many times.

The fact is, more people will be bad for those who are really committed to getting there and therefore respect the area. At the same time so many of the Hollister Ranch owners are insufferable pricks who have threatened and harassed people and done property damage for so long--just a small step below the Lunada Bay criminals.

PitMix Jun 16, 2021 07:03 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

These stories really need to provide the background on this issue because many of these commenters don't appear to know about previous access agreements, state laws, and court cases that have already been litigated in favor of limited public access.

I, for one, not having any rich friends or a boat I can launch through the surf, would like to see the place before I die.

Voice of Reason Jun 16, 2021 03:06 PM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

It's very common Pit, for people to walk in and surf. Hangout on the beach probably not common as there are many other beaches that are much easier to access with a similar scenery and an isolated / remote feel. The public property ends at the high tide line so I wouldn't recommend walking up the Patagonias and Avatars and knocking on their doors

Babycakes Jun 16, 2021 08:03 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

Please, please, please find , some snowy plovers and shut the whole thing down. Or possibly someone will locate a colony of endangered gnawing gnats, spinning spiders, or California burrowing toads. I have always wanted to visit that stretch of coastline, but really would hate to go there once the trash, filth, and diapers start piling up. I suppose the cultural messages that will be scratched, painted, marked on every available surface, rocks, and signs will appear from day one.

theaaaron Jun 16, 2021 10:17 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

Hollister Ranch is required by law to allow access to the beach. The current process underway is a good attempt to reconcile that fact, the public's need and desire for beach access, the private property rights of the Hollister Ranch residents and the sensitive environmental habitat. All this ranting and raving about how the great unwashed hordes of poor folk going to destroy the place is ridiculous. Neither Refugio or El Cap have been inundated with trash or destroyed and access at Hollister ranch will be much more limited and difficult. I doubt there will ever be "hundreds" of visitors on a single day.

bosco Jun 16, 2021 10:47 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

Don't expect to see public access anytime soon. The Hollister Ranch HOA has a legal team working to drag this out in the courts. I've been there, surfed there, and it's beautiful the way it is. I don't see hoards of people flocking to the beaches there, but making access challenging (by boat, beach walk, etc.) keeps it preserved and adds to the allure. Not every stretch of nature needs to have a paved road with parking lots leading to it.

CreekMoe Jun 16, 2021 11:31 AM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

When Amtrak is not running, County could run a trolley system or VW Bus line from Carpenteria to Buelton. And make stop for surfers, tourists, workers, etc.

The Homeless already have access and camp along the RR Tracks.

And the Coastal Commission should add some ADA ramps to get around the low tide sections. Or any development needs to be compliant.

Voice of Reason Jun 16, 2021 12:34 PM
Shuttles, Cars, or Trails? State Offers Menu of Options for Hollister Ranch Beach Access

Both incorrect. The HOA doesn't prevent anyone from accessing the beach up to the mean high tide line. They are preventing people from crossing over their private property to access the public beach. There is no law that requires private property owners to provide public easements over their land (except eminent domain and it's done with just compensation).

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