New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

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New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit
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Source: Law Office of Marc Chytilo, Attorney to the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen K. Sterne issued her long-awaited ruling in the latest chapter of the battle to gain public access to Hollister Ranch on Santa Barbara County’s Gaviota Coast. Like earlier rulings, Judge Sterne endorsed the engagement of the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance (Alliance) and outlined a path to litigate issues to be resolved in order to achieve more meaningful public access to the beaches and coastline of Hollister Ranch.

Judge Sterne’s February 8 ruling rejected all of Hollister Ranch’s objections and upheld the tentative ruling she had proposed on January 14, 2019, when the parties and their attorneys last met in court. The final ruling supplemented the prior tentative ruling by adding an explanation of why the circumstances of this case required that the court consider the public’s interest in determining whether the closed-door Settlement Agreement between the Coastal Commission and Hollister Ranch Owners Association should be approved or rejected. The Alliance argued the Settlement Agreement is both unfair and illegal, and must be rejected.

The Judge ruled that the court must fully consider the Alliance’s claims that the Settlement Agreement is illegal, and directed that the Alliance file a cross-complaint to ensure that these claims are properly before the court. Hollister asserted that these claims should not be considered at all, and if they were, that the Alliance be required to file a cross-complaint. The court rejected the first argument, and allowed filing of a cross-complaint to ensure the court has the ability to rule on the Alliance’s arguments.

Filings are due on February 22 and March 8, and the parties will next be in court on March 18 at 8:30 am for a case management conference.

“This ruling reflects the importance of public interest advocates in this lawsuit” explained Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Alliance. “The judge has rejected Hollister’s efforts to remove us from the lawsuit and to marginalize the public. We are committed to representing the public and securing reasonable public access to all 8.5 miles of the beaches and tidelands adjoining Hollister Ranch.”

Susan Jordan, Executive Director of the California Coastal Protection Network and member of the Alliance Board of Directors stated: “Hollister has resisted allowing the public to access beaches and state tidelands for decades. This ruling, and the sustained efforts by state agencies and community organizations, are working to open up access to Hollister Ranch for the public who has been illegally excluded for far too long.”

“A continuous Coastal Trail from Gaviota State Park to Jalama has been COASTWALK’s goal for many years. Access across Hollister Ranch is an essential element, and this ruling is a step forward.” Stated Cea Higgins, Executive Director of Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association, and a member of the Alliance Board of Directors.

"Conceived and approved decades ago, the Gaviota Coast Plan establishes a segment of the California Coastal Trail through Hollister Ranch that has been blocked for too long," said Santa Barbara County Trails Council President Otis Calef, a member of the Alliance Board of Directors.

Phil McKenna, chair of the Alliance’s Board and a member of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board of Directors, states: “This ruling restores our faith in the independence of California’s judiciary. Wealthy moneyed interests and powerful state agencies are equal to the public in the eyes of the law, especially when Constitutionally protected rights of coastal access are concerned. We applaud Judge Sterne’s analysis of these issues and trust she will carefully consider the views of the Alliance and faithfully implement the laws that are on the books to protect these important public rights of coastal access.”

“The result and reasoning of the court are precisely correct in placing substance over form. The public has a right to public beach and coastal zone access, and is entitled to be heard on the fairness of the proposed settlement. People of color, low income people, Native American people, people with disabilities, older people, and others protected by coastal justice under the Coastal Act are entitled to be heard, not only wealthy beach front property owners. California LULAC, GreenLatinos, and The City Project will continue the struggle with the Alliance to achieve coastal justice for all.” Robert Garcia, Founding Director- Counsel, The City Project, a non profit civil rights team. LULAC is the nation’s largest, oldest, and most respected Latino organization. GreenLatinos is a national network of environmental, health equity, and social justice leaders.


In 2013 Hollister sued to invalidate a 1982 Offer to Dedicate a public access easement granted by the YMCA. In May of 2018 the public got wind of a proposed Settlement Agreement between Hollister Ranch and the California Coastal Commission and the State Coastal Conservancy. Under that proposed Settlement Agreement, the State would waive its rights under the 1982 easements and any form of overland access to Hollister’s beaches in exchange for public rights to land small boats on a ¾ miles stretch of the beach. Hollister agreed to continue a long running invitational access program for scientists and educators but required funding from the state, but included a “poison pill” that excused Hollister from all obligations if the State sought to acquire public access anywhere on Hollister Ranch by eminent domain. The Settlement Agreement strongly favored Hollister, and when members of the Coastal Commission held the first public hearing on the proposed settlement in July 2018, nearly 1500 public comments were submitted, the vast majority objecting to the closed-door settlement’s terms.

The Coastal Commission’s earlier efforts to obtain public access at the exclusive Hollister Ranch culminated in a 1982 Hollister Ranch Access Program, but Hollister’s refusal to cooperate prevented its implementation. Legislation was enacted to fund and authorize public access at Hollister, but this too failed. Currently, the Coastal Commission is updating the 1982 Hollister Ranch Access Program to restate the plan for public access to all 8.5 miles of beaches adjacent to Hollister Ranch. The litigation over the YMCA Offer to Dedicate involves potential roadway access into the heart of Hollister Ranch’s beaches, along with access to 0.75 miles of these beaches, and thus can be an important part of public access at Hollister.

The Alliance heeds the words of the Coastal Commission’s former Executive Director, Peter Douglas. “The coast is never saved. The coast is always being saved.”

Members of the public that support this effort are encouraged to visit the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance website to learn more, sign up to receive notifications, and make a contribution to achieve public access to Hollister Ranch.


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Flicka Feb 16, 2019 10:28 AM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

The Hollister residents want only visitors who come by boat. Probably the noted, "poor, handicapped, etc" are mentioned because they aren't likely to have boats. Their only access would be by land.

tagdes Feb 16, 2019 01:12 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

Probably a hard bottom inflatable so since he couldn't fillet it he sliced it. Would make for a slow ride back to Gaviota depending on how many chambers it had. My 12' Achilles, perfect ranch boat size only had 4, so a slice could really be a problem if that story is actually true, which is doubtful, but could be. I know for a fact, seen the pics from guys that were there the Sudden Ranch folks buried a surfers' car for trespassing (parking)on the ranch by Jalama.

harmless gardener Feb 16, 2019 11:01 AM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

I knew of people having engine trouble and landing their inflatable on the beach there. Some guy came out and told them to leave, when the explained about the engine, he sliced their boat and said he'd shoot them if they weren't gone in 15 minutes.

rustydad Feb 16, 2019 10:11 AM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

There are two words that are relevant in this struggle. They are 'commons' and 'hypocrisy'. In a society a 'Commons' is that which is jointly owned and managed by the members of that society. One thinks of our National Parks as an example. But our roads and highways, our mail service, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and many more are all part of our commons. And our beaches are part of that commons. Denying a person access to our commons is generally illegal. And so it is with our beaches, denying access is illegal. Hypocrisy according to Wikipedia, " Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another." Now the owners of parcels of the land on what was the Hollister Ranch, now the Hollister Ranch Subdivision, use many of our 'commons' in their daily lives. They use Highway 101, they use the Gaviota State Parks road, they use the public schools, they use the Fire department, and many more elements of our Commons. Yet they deny the public the access needed to enjoy the public's beaches. As a note, when the Hollister Ranch was still a ranch owned by the Hollister family, and had been for generations, the owners allowed unfettered access to the ranch, not just the beaches, to the public if they joined for a very small fee the Santa Barbara County Sportsman Association. One could access all the beaches and drive on the hundreds of miles of ranch roads, hike anywhere. And you could take a soothing soak in the Los Cruces Hot Springs at the end of the day, then owned by the Hollisters. Better times for sure. Yes, the Hollisters were wealthy.....but they were not hypocrites.

a-1561586860 Feb 16, 2019 01:10 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

Yes but everyone pays for the “commons” use. That is not the case with access over private land. The beach is for the public use, yes. It is not “illegal” to prevent the taking of private land without due process and compensation.

a-1561586860 Feb 16, 2019 08:46 AM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

The State can have access any time it chooses and always could through eminent domain. It would be pricey so it comes down to the question of is this how most Californians want to spend their money? We have an ambitious state agenda. What are our collective priorities? That the the public (that means all of us) are “illegally” prevented access across privately owned land is nonsensical. There are individual rights and public rights. Sometimes they seem at odds but let this play out in the courts. We have bigger problems in the world and in our country to lose sleep over. As is often cited this is a “first world problem.”

Nature Boy Feb 15, 2019 10:12 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

Look, it’s really simple: Yes, there are horrible people who leave litter on beaches. But can we close off an entire stretch of coastline to all but a select few because of that? How arrogant to say “the residents won’t litter, only the visitors.” By this logic of punishing everyone because of a few rude people, shouldn’t we close EVERY beach to the public? Why should Hollister Ranch be protected but not Hendry’s? And to PARVOPUP, i walk on our local beaches all the time, and i have NEVER seen a poop-filled diaper on the beach. Not that it doesn’t happen, of course it does, but i hereby GUARANTEE that if the Ranch is open to the public, you will never find ONE diaper on that beach. I absolutely stake my life on it. Beaches are for everyone.

horsegirl Feb 16, 2019 01:15 AM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

One only needs to look at how our national parks were treated during the last shutdown to understand why so many are against unfettered access here.

a-1561586860 Feb 15, 2019 08:58 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

People worry about access. What about the driving on the beach that takes place at HR? That's not considered detrimental to the beaches there?

ParvoPup Feb 15, 2019 06:41 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

I sometimes work in HR, so can attest to the beauty of these beaches. Can also attest that they are beautiful because few people have access. If this Judge opens the gates, I give the place a year before it is littered with trash, dirty diapers, graffiti, ciggie butts and the rest of the garbage that the hordes leave behind.

yin yang Feb 15, 2019 09:52 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

HR usually means Human Resources. Is this the case in your post, PPup? If so, how does that help you attest to the beauty? Honest question, not snarky. I don't understand. Unless you got some great perks!

Flicka Feb 15, 2019 05:37 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

In the 1960s the Santa Barbara Surf Club had access to drive onto the Ranch and use the beach. Some members built shacks out of driftwood. We knew one of the members and twice spent the night in his "shack". Beautiful area.

a-1561586860 Feb 15, 2019 04:17 PM
New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit

"People of color, low income people, Native American people, people with disabilities, older people, and others protected by coastal justice" I don't really have a definitive opinion on this situation, as both sides make sense to me. But I do have an opinion on this quote, it's ridiculous! I don't fall into any of these categories (or wealthy beach front owner) and would love to go to Hollister why no just go with PEOPLE protected by Coastal Justice? Why make it a racial issue ? It's an access issue (and property rights issue)...that's it!

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