Gaviota Coast Conservancy
Santa Barbara County Trails Council
COASTWALK/California Coastal Trail Association
California Coastal Protection Network
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 3, 2022
Phil McKenna, President Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance (GCTA), 805-451-6769
Marc Chytilo, Law Office of Marc Chytilo, 805-682-0585 - Attorney to the GCTA
Court of Appeal Voids Private Settlement between Hollister Ranch and California State Agencies, upholding Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Sterne’s decision
SANTA BARBARA, CA – The 40-year legal battle to secure responsible public access to the 8.5 miles of coastline at Hollister Ranch has taken another favorable turn. On December 28, 2021 the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Judge Sterne in the Superior Court of Santa Barbara County to nullify the inequitable private settlement reached between Hollister Ranch and the California Coastal Commission and California Coastal Conservancy in 2018. The settlement agreement waived the state’s interests in certain public access easements created in 1982 as elements of the Los Angeles YMCA’s development permit. Referencing the Coastal Act, the Court of Appeal stated “The California Coastal Act restricts selling or transferring certain state-owned property interests near the coast.” The Court of Appeal agreed with Judge Sterne that the Coastal Act required the public’s participation in considering a settlement agreement that extinguished coastal access easements. Link to COA decision
Judge Sterne, contemplating approval of the private settlement in 2018, and over the objections of the settling parties, ordered that a notice be published describing the settlement and inviting objections before the final fairness hearing. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC), the California Coastal Protection Network, Coastwalk California Coastal Trail Association and the Santa Barbara Trails Council, recognizing that the settlement would effectively end efforts to gain meaningful public access to the state’s beaches by Hollister Ranch, formed the GCTA. Over Hollister’s strident objections, GCTA was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit and question the settlement process. The publicity associated with GCTA’s intervention supported legislative efforts by then-Assemblyperson Monique Limon to reactivate state efforts to gain access to public beaches that have been enjoyed by Hollister Ranch residents and their guests on a nearly-exclusive basis through Hollister’s control of the roads leading to the beaches.
This ruling by the Court of Appeals vindicates the GCTA’s intervention and their objections to the ill-framed settlement agreement. Phil McKenna, Chairperson of the GCTA commented “The process of opening public access to the beaches at Hollister Ranch has been a 40-year saga that is nearing a conclusion which should provide responsible public access to the public beaches adjacent to Hollister Ranch.”
The GCTA has been represented by attorneys Marc Chytilo and Ana Citrin of the Law Office of Marc Chytilo and attorneys Ellison Folk and Andrew Miller of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger in San Francisco.
The published decision of the Court of Appeal will be finalized in 30 days. Hollister Ranch could request that the California Supreme Court review the decision, but the GCTA is confident that this decision will stand. “Judge Sterne’s management of this complex case and well reasoned decisions have ensured that the public’s interests in coastal access at Hollister Ranch will not be abandoned” explained GCTA Counsel Marc Chytilo. “GCTA’s actions were pivotal in blocking an ill-advised giveaway of public rights and shifting focus from a narrow set of rights established in 1982 to an equitable, just and environmentally-sensitive public access program.”
Specifically, the Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program, a plan authorized and funded by the State of California under Senator Limon’s 2019 legislation and recently renewed appropriations, is anticipating opening a pilot program for public access to the beaches by Hollister Ranch in the spring of 2022.
In 1970, before Hollister Ranch was subdivided, the Los Angeles YMCA purchased a parcel and applied to build a camp for its members and the public. The 1982 YMCA Coastal Development Permit included YMCA’s Offers to Dedicate (OTD) public access easements along the Ranch Road and to the beach. The California Coastal Conservancy accepted those OTDs in 2013, and was immediately sued by the Hollister Ranch Owners Association. Hollister and the state’s attorneys developed a proposed settlement agreement that would extinguish all rights under the 1982 OTDs in exchange for limited rights for the public to land kayaks and sit upon the dry sand at a ¾ mile stretch of beach. Hollister agreed to continue its long running invitational access program for scientists and educators but demanded public funding and included a “poison pill” that excused Hollister Ranch 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 required the approval of Judge Sterne. In May of 2018, the public got wind of this Settlement Agreement and demanded a public hearing in front of the Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission held the first public hearing on the settlement in July 2018, receiving nearly 1500 public comments, the vast majority objecting to the closed-door settlement’s terms. Judge Sterne herself expressed concerns over the exclusion of the public from the settlement process, and opened the door to intervention before she would approve the settlement. GCTA intervened, objected to the settlement on various grounds, and Judge Sterne ruled the closed-door settlement violated procedural rules protecting the public. The Court of Appeals decision upheld this ruling.
The Coastal Commission’s earlier efforts to obtain public access to the 8.5 miles of beaches 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. AB 1680 (Limon) was then enacted in 2019, mandating planning for implementation of equitable coastal access at Hollister Ranch through the Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program. The 2021-2022 state budget includes $10,000,000 to fund coastal access planning and implementation efforts at Hollister. See https://www.coastal.ca.gov/hollister-ranch/
GCTA heeds the words of the Coastal Commission’s former Executive Director, Peter Douglas. “The coast is never saved. The coast is always being saved.”
The Alliance is an ad hoc, unincorporated association committed to securing environmentally responsible and non-discriminatory public access to beaches along the Gaviota Coast including the establishment of the California Coastal Trail within the sight and sound of the ocean.
Tax deductible contributions for this effort may be made to the GCTA’s fiscal agent, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, at
Post Office Box 1099, Goleta, California 93116