Hollister Ranch Settlement Agreement Ruled Invalid and Unenforceable

A very green Hollister Ranch from 2017 (Photo: John Wiley)

Source: Cappello & Noël LLP
December 25, 2019

Recent Court Ruling Means Delay In Increased Public’s Access to Hollister Ranch Beaches

A recent ruling by a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge will mean less public access to Hollister Ranch beaches for at least three to five years as litigation in the land use dispute continues, says A. Barry Cappello, lead counsel representing the Hollister Ranch Owners Association.

“Judge Colleen Sterne’s decision to invalidate a 2017 settlement, which was tentatively approved at that time by the court regarding public access to Hollister Ranch’s 8 1/2 miles of beaches, puts a stop to approved plans to increase access to the beaches by schools, nonprofits and members of the general public,” says Cappello, managing partner of Cappello & Noël LLP.

“The 2017 agreement negotiated between the State of California and Hollister Ranch Owners Association included the developed and implementation of a public access program,” explains Cappello. “Until the 2017 agreement is resurrected or something different is put in place, litigation will continue for the foreseeable future. This is an unfortunate waste of everyone’s time and treasure, including the taxpayers.”

Cappello says that Hollister Ranch Owners Association is working with the State and will continue to do so. “The property owners want to ensure that this environmentally unique piece of California coast gets the special protection it deserves,” says Cappello. “Until all the parties agree on a process fair to all, particularly the homeowners of the ranch, this fight will go on.”

Source: Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance
December 21, 2019

The campaign to obtain responsible public coastal access to the beaches by Hollister Ranch secured a significant victory last week with Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne’s ruling that invalidated a 2017 Settlement Agreement that purported to extinguish all public rights under a contested 1982 public access easement.

This ruling culminated an eighteen-month process during which the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance argued that the State Agencies could not approve the Settlement Agreement without conducting a public hearing and making specific factual findings, as required by law. Phil McKenna, Chairperson of the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, stated “The Alliance has been steadfast in defending the public’s right to access Hollister Ranch as provided for by the 1982 Offer to Dedicate coastal access. When we learned the details of the Settlement Agreement between the State agencies and Hollister, we realized it was up to us to act to protect the public rights. That’s the only reason we have this ruling today.”

The Alliance challenged the California Coastal Commission and State Coastal Conservancy’s closed-door approval of a settlement agreement with the Hollister Ranch Owners Association (HROA). That agreement would have surrendered the State’s legal interests in public access to Hollister’s 3/4 mile Cuarta Canyon beach that was obtained through the YMCA’s Offer to Dedicate public access as a condition of a 1982 development permit. Judge Sterne ruled in favor of the Alliance, determining “the Conservancy has failed to proceed in the manner required by law… 

[and] shall be ordered to vacate its closed-session approval of the HROA settlement”. (Order after Hearing, p. 46, ¶ 103.)

In reaching this conclusion, the 48-page opinion thoroughly evaluates the evidence and applicable law, and soundly rejects claims by the State agencies and the HROA that no public process was required to approve the settlement disposing of a disputed OTD. Judge Sterne reasoned:

“there is public and institutional reliance on the preservation of public ownership of property rights acquired for the purpose of public coastal access. It would upend the legislatively- declared policy of full public participation in the planning and implementation of coastal, planning, conservation, and development [ ] to allow a State entity to covertly dispose of coastal public property based upon the transferee’s challenge to the validity of the State’s ownership interest.”

(Order after Hearing, p. 41, ¶ 91.) The Court found “there is at this time no valid and enforceable settlement” (Order after Hearing, p. 47, ¶ 108.)

“We intervened in this lawsuit to uphold the public’s right to weigh in before the State gave up the only existing offer to dedicate public access (OTD) through Hollister Ranch” said Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network. “Judge Sterne’s ruling validates the importance of this OTD and of the public process that must be followed before the State can dispose of it” she added.

While the ruling in this lawsuit stopped an improper giveaway of state rights, it also facilitates other

actions that are underway to secure coastal access at Hollister. AB 1680 (Limón, Santa Barbara), signed by Governor Newsom on October 9 , 2019, requires state coastal agencies to complete a

Hollister Ranch Access Program by April 2021. Funds from Hollister Ranch development fees and other sources are available, and the state agencies have been directed to use their “full authority” to implement coastal access as expeditiously as practicable, with an April 2022 deadline for the first phase.

The Alliance seeks both access to the 8.5 miles of beaches at Hollister Ranch and to designate a segment of the California Coastal Trail to advance the State’s goal of a continuous trail along the entire California coastline. “Californians deserve the ability to walk their coast on the California Coastal Trail” declared COASTWALK’s Executive Director Cea Higgins. The Settlement Agreement would have thwarted that ambition, and now instead we are moving towards an access program at Hollister that includes a Coastal Trail.”

Members of the public are encouraged to visit the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance website to learn more, sign up to receive notifications, and make contributions to support public access to Hollister Ranch. https://www.gaviotacoastaltrailalliance.org/



Written by Anonymous

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  1. The private homeowners of Hollister Ranch have done a stellar job keeping that beach and surrounding wildlands pristine. It is sad that it will be open to the public. Does this now give access to the counties homeless?

  2. Judge Sterne is the worst.
    Easily swayed by public over “rights to access” of real estate that equals a “taking of rights”of property owners.
    The state will have to pony up a lot of money to approve access thru private property if done legally.
    It is a real waste when you have to consider that VAFB is NOT going to allow access because some believe that they should be able to trample anything and everything in the name of “access”.
    They wont open Surf Beach to the public,but you think the Military will welcome you?You are sorely mistaken.
    If you can’t get past Jalama ,and can’t access the coast until you get past Grover Beach, the little 8 miles of Hollister Ranch becomes insignificant.
    The trail will have to go from Gaviota,thru Lompoc,up HWY 1 to Maybe Point Sal, but likely Grover Beach
    Keep Hollister Ranch pristine.

  3. Judge Sterne ruled according to clear law. All that was done here was to invalidate a *settlement* in which the state gave away public property–an easement–because the settlement wasn’t made in accordance with the law. There may yet be a valid settlement that still does so. So nothing you have written here is correct.

  4. Fluffy Jake
    The homeless will never infest the shores of Hollister Ranch; you are sorely mistaken. There are no liquor stores within a “Sabbath Day’s” bicycle range. I’m fairly certain of an outpour of downvotes on this comment, as it’s incorrect to dis those poor souls, until incendiary acts devalue someone’s property; and then it’s “all aboard”!

  5. Very true.
    Or paradise cove in malibu.
    Or any of Laguna beach.
    Etc etc.
    what a joke. Trail alliance is a sham. Bunch of jealous surfers.
    Get a life.
    Not and owner, but don’t need a trash laden trail Leave it exactly how it is.

  6. The easement is owned by Union Pacific, and if you don’t know, the high tide mark is the public easement. Because of the cliffs, you have no “Public access”, except by walking at low tide, investing in a boat ,or,be an owner so you have some skin in the game.
    Keep wasting your time on something you can’t change.
    I’m a sixth generation local.
    Good luck.

  7. Please give me access to Yosemite and make sure a shuttle bus is there waiting for me with snacks to bring me to the top of half dome because I cant figure out how to do it myself.
    And also please pave it. Yes I need a paved trail.

  8. Thank you, Chico Berkeley! You speak the truth. And it DOES matter if you’ve been here all your life and your family goes back generations. We know what has happened to all of our precious California coastline because of people moving here and eating it up, trashing it and ruining it. I don’t like elitism, but I do NOT think we should allow the government to step in to land grab this private land so John Q Public can trample all over it. And I am NOT a homeowner nor do I have access to the Hollister Ranch, but I would sure like to see it left alone.

  9. Seen this war over rights at HROA for 60 years now.
    If you are not a local,you don’t know what is really going on historically and therefore have no idea what the area is about.
    That’s the difference.
    Way to many people from east of the Rockies who have no Idea what it takes to keep things pristine. You all have destroyed your environment by trampling it and move out here and tell everyone else how to live.
    If this is you,do us all a favor and take your unenlightened,trust fund A$$ back and leave this piece alone.

  10. The public has a right to beach access in CA and people who buy coastal property know this going in. No rights are being trampled, and the ranch owners are doing nothing to keep the area pristine, in fact they drive all over the beach and use it as they want. I’ll bet several of the commenters here are owners. Elitism at its worst.

  11. Snort and snicker out loud, roll your eyes, turn your back and just walk away… These Nth generation SB locals are such tools. As if anyone cares that their great grandparents moved here in 1890… Sheesh. There is nothing special about living in your grandma’s house and working for your uncle. Reminds me of that vegan joke and seems to apply perfectly to the SB Locals… How do you know if someone is a Nth generation SB local? Dont worry, they’ll tell you!

  12. Factotum–what you report is exact proof that you do not have a clue about the judicial process. If J. Sterne ruled that the city had not made their case that does not mean that she ruled there is no “gang problem” in SB. It merely means that she held the city to the proper standard of proof needed to overcome Constitutional objections to such an order. If they did not meet that proof that is their failure. If they met the proof they could have appealed and been justified on review. I assume they did not because they knew they would lose there as well. Judges are not politicians who are in office to do the popular will, thankfully.

  13. Noozhawk July 2014 -” (Judge) Sterne’s 32-page ruling filed Monday recognized the Eastside and Westside as local criminal street gangs, but determined the city didn’t prove that gang activities are a public nuisance requiring injunctive relief.
    “In short, Santa Barbara is not a community beset by substantial and unreasonable gang-related interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons,” she wrote.”

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