Hollister Ranch Association Moves to Disqualify Judge
Hollister Ranch (Photo: Gaviota Coast Conservancy)
By edhat staff
The Hollister Ranch Owners Association has moved to disqualify the judge who ruled against them earlier this month, reports Steve Lopez with the Los Angeles Times.
To start from the beginning, there was a previous settlement between the Hollister Ranch landowners, the California Coastal Conservancy, and the Coastal Commission that was done behind closed doors without the public's knowledge. The State of California agreed to forego public access and instead allow a few more visitors to come in with guides or to travel by surfboard, paddleboard, kayak, or soft-bottom boat. When the Los Angeles Times exposed this deal, the public and the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance petitioned to intervene.
Earlier this month, edhat reported Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen K. Sterne endorsed the engagement of the Gaviota Coastal Trail 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.
Although, last week the landowners of Hollister Ranch, a pristine and relatively untouched section of the Gaviota coastline, were seemingly displeased with this ruling. Lopez reports the Hollister Ranch Owners Association recently filed a petition to have Judge Sterne disqualified because of “an appearance of bias, based on the judge’s suggestion to a party how to proceed.”
The following day, the Goleta Trail Alliance filed a claim requesting the previous settlement be thrown out, arguing that “the settlement conflicts with public rights of way to tidelands and navigable waters,” and was agreed to without public “notification and hearing protocols.” The claim also says the state “threw in the towel on ever getting meaningful beach access,” condemning adventurers “to brave the dangers” of access by sea, reports Lopez.
Evidence of the tension between two sides could be seen during the California Coastal Commission's informational hearing in December last year. It addressed the agency’s plans to revise the 1982 Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program, as directed by Governor Brown in his September 2018 veto message for AB 2534, a bill authored by Assemblymember Monique Limon.
During the hearing, a number of Hollister Ranch owners argued the Coastal Commission should not pursue public access, while others asked to be involved in the Commission’s stakeholder process. A video of the meeting can be found here. The informational presentation begins around 31 minutes and 40 seconds while public comments begin around 1 hour.
Several Hollister Ranch landowners provided public comment expressing why the general public would ruin the land and the beaches. One owner specifically stated the Commission's resources should be focused elsewhere with larger populations while another stated this is solely driven by surfers wanting to catch waves.
For reference, the California Coastal Act of 1976 guarantees state beaches are available to everyone and not a few landowners.
At the conclusion of this meeting, Commission Chair Bochco and other Commissioners restated their commitment to secure public access to the Hollister Ranch coastline, stating that the Coast belongs to everyone.
"Telling us that humans are ruining the beach, that access by the public is somehow going to make your pristine property no longer pristine, the wildlife will disappear, etc. I find that somewhat offensive. I find it … to be a very subtle kind of elitism, that for some reason you’re better at protecting the natural habitat than anyone else…. I can see why for the past 36 years the [residents] … have blocked the state from doing what it legally had the right to do, which was to have an access program to Hollister Ranch’s beaches. That’s the law and the law applies to everybody," said Bochco.
The debate and proceedings rage on as it's currently unclear how the two petitions will shake out.
[Sources: Los Angeles Times, California Coastal Commission, Gaviota Trail Alliance]
- February 15, 2019: New Ruling in Hollister Ranch Access Lawsuit
- August 24, 2017: Hollister Ranch Fights to Limit Public Beach Access