Approves a Procedural Path to Reject Settlement Agreement
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, an alliance that includes Gaviota Coast Conservancy, 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 Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance argued the Settlement Agreement is both unfair and illegal, and must be rejected.
Coastal Commission directs staff to proceed with access plan development
On December 13, 2018, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Coleen Sterne rejected a motion by the Hollister Ranch Owners Association to dismiss the advocacy organization Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance (GCTA) from a lawsuit concerning public access to a portion of Hollister Ranch. Judge Sterne ruled that Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance had “standing” to participate in the lawsuit because it had an interest in the litigation and proposed Settlement Agreement as the Judge had previously ruled in August 2018. The judge rejected all other elements of Hollister’s “Demurrer” and ruled the Alliance could pursue all of its claims and defenses to the proposed Settlement Agreement and in any ensuring litigation.
GCTA Counsel Marc Chytilo stated, “The public’s interest in gaining access to the coastline by Hollister Ranch will continue to be represented by the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance. This ruling represents another failed effort by Hollister Ranch to maintain their private use of the public lands along the Hollister Ranch coastline. The state tidelands are owned by and for the people of California, not an elite few. The California Constitution and Coastal Act mandate public access to this coastline and we will not be deterred.”
The case will next be in court on January 14, 2019 at 1:30 pm, for a hearing on the fairness of a proposed Settlement Agreement between Hollister Ranch and the California Coastal Commission. After Judge Sterne expressed concern in May that the public should have an opportunity to participate in the court’s review of the fairness of the proposed Settlement Agreement, the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance formed from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, California Coastal Protection Network, Santa Barbara County Trails Council and COASTWALK/California Coastal Trail Association, and successfully intervened in that case in August 2018.
All parties have submitted extensive briefing and the fairness of the Settlement Agreement will be decided on January 14, in Judge Sterne’s courtroom.
Coastal Commission Hearing in Newport Beach
On Friday December 14, 2018, the California Coastal Commission held an informational hearing addressing 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. For background on the CCC process, the Staff Report can be found at https://www.coastal.ca.gov/meetings/agenda/#/2018/12.
Videos of the hearing are archived at http://cal-span.org/static/meetings-CCC.php.
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. Although the Commission took no action on the informational item, Chair Bochco and other Commissioners restated their commitment to secure public access to the Hollister Ranch coastline, stating that the Coast belongs to everyone. The Coastal Commission is a member of an inter-agency working group (California Coastal Conservancy, State Lands Commission, State Parks) to develop an updated access plan. A stakeholder process is in development, and a public workshop will be convened in Santa Barbara in March 2019.
About The Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance
The Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance is an association of non-profit groups dedicated to opening Gaviota Coast beaches for equitable public use and completing the California Coastal Trail. Tax deductible donations may be made to the GCTA’s fiscal agent, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy for GCTA. For more information, visit http://gaviotacoastconservancy.org/
Las Varas Ranch: On a Path to Protection
Charles Munger Enables Donation of 1800-Acre Gaviota Coast Ranch to UCSB
(Las Varas image and map courtesy of Gaviota Coast Conservancy)
Capping a banner year for the Gaviota Coast, UCSB announced today that the UC Regents have approved a proposed donation of the 1800 acre Las Varas Ranch on the Gaviota Coast for ownership and stewardship by University of California Santa Barbara. UCSB has pledged to keep the property in its current state as a working ranch. Philanthropist Charles T. Munger is under contract to purchase the property and to donate it to UCSB early in 2019.
Las Varas Ranch is an historic agricultural ranch located between Dos Pueblos Ranch and El Capitan State Park. It has about 2 miles of coastline, is bisected by the Union Pacific Railroad line and Highway 101, and extends up Las Varas Canyon to border the Los Padres National Forest.
Las Varas Ranch has a significant history, including service as a prisoner of war camp during WW II, with a remnant of the camp’s water tower still visible from Highway 101. The views across the Ranch’s pastoral lands are extraordinary, while the creeks, grasslands and coastline each have high natural resource values.
In 2015 the then-owners asked the County to approve a subdivision of the Ranch that would have increased the number of coastal lots, and thereby substantially increased its value and developability. That proposal was rejected by the County after strenuous opposition from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and other community groups due to a faulty environmental impact analysis, avoidable impacts to agricultural resources and inadequate protection of the Ranch’s biological, aesthetic and historical resources. The Ranch was then put on the market for sale, first at $108M, then reduced to $90M, and reportedly to be sold to Mr. Munger for $70M, who has pledged to donate it to UCSB.
Little is known how UCSB will manage the property, if and how public access will be provided to all or portions of the Ranch and its coastline, and whether it will be integrated into the University of California’s Natural Reserve System. The County Coastal Plan sites several trails on the property, including the California Coastal Trail along the bluff and through the Ranch, along with other potential low-intensity coastal recreational facilities. The Ranch has productive orchards and grazing lands, and reportedly will continue under the management of Paul Van Leer.
The preservation of Las Varas Ranch in December 2018 represents a year of extraordinary accomplishments throughout the Gaviota Coast. One year ago, on December 27, 2017, The Nature Conservancy announced their purchase of the 24,500 acre Bixby Ranch, now the Dangermond Preserve, for conservation purposes. In June 2018, a Settlement Agreement between Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Santa Barbara County established a prohibition against future expansion of the Tajiguas Landfill, the sole remaining operating solid waste landfill in California’s coastal zone. The Settlement included substantial funding to study, pioneer and implement Regenerative Agricultural practices on the Gaviota Coast, including carbon farming to sequester atmospheric carbon on the Gaviota Coast. In October, the Gaviota Coast Plan received its final approval from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and California Coastal Commission. A decade in development, the Gaviota Coast Plan establishes updated and more protective policies and guidelines for land uses on the Gaviota Coast.
Steve Forsell, GCC’s President stated, “The Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s sole focus is the Gaviota Coast. For two decades we have worked to prevent large residential development proposals, and the Gaviota Coast is largely unchanged. We are pleased that NGOs and academic institutions have stepped up and acquire and permanently protect large portions of Gaviota Coast’s vulnerable lands. This is a great holiday present for Santa Barbara and California.”
Gaviota Coast Conservancy
Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a tax exempt, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the rural character of the Gaviota Coast and its unique natural, scenic, agricultural, recreational, and cultural resources. GCC monitors all significant development on the Gaviota Coast, acting as a watchdog and advocate for the region. Working through partnerships with other land conservation organizations, local landowners, resource agencies, and government entities, the Conservancy is promoting long-term strategies to protect the Gaviota Coast for future generations.
Longtime coastal advocate Mike Lunsford accepted a lifetime achievement award at a recent Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) event to launch its annual award series.
Lunsford, GCC founder and board emeritus member, accepted the Coastal Legacy Award from friend and colleague Robert Field.
A retired state park ranger with 25 years of service, Lunsford is known for his achievements in resource management, and the creation of the Gaviota State Park trail system.
Lunsford became a charter member of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board of Directors, where he served as president for 15 years.
“There is something about having your worth validated that induces a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment,” he said.
“You are my colleagues, my collaborators, and friends, so to receive such recognition from you gives me great pride and humility. I believe GCC will continue to accomplish extraordinary things,” he said.
Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board Members, local dignitaries, coastal advocates and dedicated supporters gathered at he event hosted by the Belmond El Encanto to toast the GCC’s ongoing coastal preservation efforts.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal paid tribute to Lunsford with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition presented by his predecessor, Rep. Lois Capps, who represented the Central Coast for two decades in the House of Representatives.
During Lunsford’s acceptance, he thanked friends and family for their continued contributions to the legacy of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, pointing to numerous shared legislative and environmental triumphs along the way.
“In creating the Coastal Legacy Award, we sought to honor in individual who has offered a lifetime of service and leadership in the ongoing mission to protect the Gaviota Coast,” GCC President Steve Forsell said after the event.
“In selecting Mike as our first honoree, we’ve set that bar very high. Mike Lunsford’s commitment to the preservation of the Gaviota Coast is legendary,” Forsell said.
The 76-mile Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County encompasses many of the coastal watersheds of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The coast is known for its remote beaches, rural landscapes, and expansive ocean, island and mountain views.
On October 16, 2018, by a 3-2 vote, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors took their final step to fully adopt the Gaviota Coast Plan. The Plan, over 10 years in the making, contains the policies, programs and goals for Santa Barbara’s Gaviota Coast planning area.
To become effective in the coastal zone, the Gaviota Coast Plan had to be certified by the Coastal Commission, and if there were any modifications, to have the County Board of Supervisors accept those modifications. The Coastal Commission conditionally certified the Gaviota Coast Plan on August 10th with 13 suggested modifications. Today the Board had to decide whether to accept all 13 suggested modifications and complete the Gaviota Coast Plan, or to reject or take no action on the modifications in which case the Plan would not apply in the coastal zone.
The Supervisors received over 100 letters of support for accepting the Commission’s modifications and finalizing the Gaviota Coast Plan. Three letters were received by the Supervisors in opposition. Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann made the motion to accept the modifications and adopt the Local Coastal Program (LCP). Supervisor Hartmann thanked former Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr who initiated the Gaviota Coast Plan process by forming the Gaviota Planning Advisory Committee (GavPAC) over 10 years ago. A majority of the Supervisors expressed the opinion that the County got the best deal it could from the Coastal Commission. With all modifications accepted, the Plan will be deemed and effective upon a Coastal Commission Executive Director determination that the Board’s action is adequate, and Commission non-objection to that determination.
Notably, as modified, the Gaviota Coast Plan includes new exemptions for ongoing and historic agricultural operations, providing Gaviota Coast farmers and ranchers with substantial flexibility to change and evolve their operations without first obtaining coastal development permits. This represents a major change from the County’s existing certified LCP which required permits for cultivation and grazing generally, including changes in ongoing operations, and renewed use of historically farmed or grazed areas. The County’s practice had been to exempt all agriculture from permits contrary to the LCP’s requirements, but the Coastal Commission soundly rejected that practice as inconsistent with the LCP and Coastal Act. This had been a major source of disagreement, with the County and agricultural interests on one side, and the Coastal Commission on the other. However, Supervisor Hartmann’s initiative to form a Ad Hoc Subcommittee of the Board and hold a public workshop with Coastal Commission staff in attendance, allowed for an open discussion of this issue and its ultimate resolution. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy proposed, and the Commission included, key language to clarify and broaden the scope of the exemptions for ongoing and historic agriculture.
Other disputed issues included the definition of and protections for Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHAs), permitting for residential accessory uses, biological study requirements, among other things. On each of these, County and Coastal Commission staff were able to negotiate compromise positions that Supervisors Hartmann, Wolf, and Chair Williams agreed adequately resolved the County’s concerns.
Now that the Gaviota Coast Plan can take effect in the coastal zone, there will be new meaningful controls on coastal development including stronger view protections (including a view corridor overlay, site design hierarchy, and design guidelines), stronger protections for sensitive habitats and watersheds including minimum setbacks from creeks, and stronger protections for the Gaviota Coast’s rich cultural and historic resources. With the Plan in effect in the coastal zone, there will also be new opportunities for coastal farmers and ranchers to process and sell their agricultural products on-site, and new flexibility and permit relief for ongoing operations, helping to maintain the vitality of Gaviota Coast agriculture.
Phil McKenna, Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board member and an appointed member of the GavPAC, stated, “The Board’s action is a major accomplishment that will help protect the Gaviota Coast into the future. The Plan establishes trail corridors, visual standards, habitat protection, exemptions for historical agricultural operations and a path for expanded regenerative agricultural practices that enhance habitat, reduce water consumption and sequester carbon in soils.”
Judge Issues Ruling Granting Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance Intervention in Hollister Ranch Public Access Settlement
Hearing on Fairness of Settlement Agreement Postponed until November 19, 2018 at 1:30 PM
SANTA BARBARA, CA – The Honorable Judge Colleen Sterne issued a ruling allowing community groups to intervene in the Hollister Ranch access case. (The SB Independent has the background story). The ruling states that “the court would benefit from having the participation of the GCTA in presenting views on fairness that are not now being presented by the State Defendants or by plaintiffs.” (Ruling, Pappas v. California Coastal Conservancy, Santa Barbara County Superior Court #1417388 for hearing on Monday August 27, 2018, page 8 of 9).
“The Court recognizes the importance of public access to the State’s lands by Hollister Ranch, and the role that community organizations have in advocating for these rights” explained Marc Chytilo, one of GCTA’s attorneys. “The public has a right to enjoy the wet sand beaches at Hollister Ranch as much as anyone else. These are rights that were reserved at statehood in 1848. Hollister residents and their chosen guests have enjoyed near-exclusive access to state tidelands and marine resources for nearly 40 years, but the public has an equal right to enjoy these state lands. The California Constitution guarantees public access to Hollister Ranch.”
The Court will finalize its ruling on GCTA’s intervention on Monday August 27 at 9:30 at a hearing in Judge Sterne’s courtroom in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court. In the tentative ruling, the Judge identified a number of issues she wants the parties to provide argument on, and postponed the “Fairness Hearing” until November 19, 2018, at 1:30. Previously, that hearing was set for September 10.
Underlying the intervention is a proposed Settlement Agreement between the Hollister Ranch Owners Association, a class including all 578 owners of lands at Hollister Ranch, the California Coastal Commission and the State Coastal Conservancy. Under that proposed Settlement Agreement, the State would waive its rights under certain easements and/or licenses that exist from an Offer to Dedicate accessways from a 1982 Coastal permit issued to the YMCA of Los Angeles.
The proposed Settlement Agreement was approved by the State defendants privately in closed session, and when the terms were announced, an immediate public outcry arose. Nearly 2000 public comments have been submitted to the Coastal Commission objecting to the proposed settlement, but the only way to stop the Settlement is by intervening in the
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 Coast Conservancy website and make a contribution to achieve public access to Hollister Ranch.
For more info, please contact Marc Chytilo, Law Office of Marc Chytilo, 805-682-0585, Attorney to the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance
Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance
Gaviota Coast Conservancy • Santa Barbara County Trails Council •
COASTWALK / California Coastal Trail Association • California Coastal Protection
Today the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the long awaited Gaviota Plan. The plan now goes to the SB County Board of Supervisors for final approval.
The Gaviota Plan becomes the guiding planning document for the Gaviota Coast into the future, supplementing and replacing parts of the countywide 1982 local coastal plan. The commission rejected most of the requests for changes, mainly following staff's recommendations. The next step will be a hearing before the Board of Supervisors this fall to decide if the County will accept the Commission's changes.
At the behest of then-Supervisor Doreen Farr, Santa Barbara County initiated a new community plan focused on the Gaviota Coast in 2009. Through an arduous process that included 62 meetings of the “GavPac” (an appointed advisory committee of diverse stakeholders that worked through many of the most challenging issues), an environmental review process and then adoption at the County level, the Gaviota Coast Plan is nearing the final steps for completion.
Today, Friday August 10, the Coastal Commission approved the Gaviota Coast Plan for incorporation into the County’s Local Coastal Plan. Following that action, the version adopted by the Commission will be presented to the Board of Supervisors who will have an up or down vote on the plan, probably this Fall.
The product of many compromises, the Gaviota Coast Plan strives to balance the protection and enhancement of sensitive biological, cultural and visual resources of the Gaviota Coast with community goals for agriculture and recreation while addressing residential and industrial development and transportation issues. It is a carefully constructed plan, reflecting extensive give and take among competing interests. Thanks to a community workshop convened by Supervisor Joan Hartmann in July, many misconceptions and concerns were addressed and resolved, including objections raised by agricultural groups and landowners. The Coastal Commission staff attended the hearing, answered questions, and ultimately made a series of modifications to accommodate those concerns. Some of the modifications used language that was developed by Gaviota Coast Conservancy representatives.
Gaviota Coast Conservancy has participated at every stage of the Gaviota Coast Plan; from helping shape its initiation, having two GCC board members appointed as members of the GavPac, commenting extensively on the EIR during the review process, and attending dozens of hearings before the Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors and now the Coastal Commission.
Gaviota Coast Conservancy is supportive of the Gaviota Coast Plan as it now stands, and urged that the Coastal Commission adopt it as submitted. While there are always issues that could be addressed more to our liking, we are confident that the Gaviota Coast Plan will add substantially to the protections needed to ensure the rural Gaviota Coast will remain for future generations to farm and enjoy while retaining the rich tapestry of ecosystems and resources that have made the Gaviota Coast so special to our community and country.
After the County had completed its process for the preparation of the Gaviota Coast Plan, the Coastal Commission added specific language concerning Hollister Ranch access. Unfortunately, that language failed to resolve any of the current disputes concerning public access, and may confuse and complicate current ongoing efforts we are engaged in to gain public access to beaches at Hollister Ranch and extend the Coastal Trail.
With the Commission signing off on a sweetheart deal with Hollister Ranch behind closed doors, Gaviota Coast Conservancy feels this new provision should be stricken from the Gaviota Coast Plan, and the existing language should remain in place while the Hollister Ranch access issue is in dispute.
For more information about Gaviota Coast Conservancy participation in the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, and how you can help these efforts to open public access to Hollister Ranch, visit the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance.
Here's a compilation of recent media coverage of the Hollister Ranch Settlement intervention by Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, including Gaviota Coast Conservancy.
US News and World Report and Associated Press: Deal Would Allow Limited Access to Disputed California Beach
Today the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, of which Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a founding member, filed legal papers to intervene in the Hollister Ranch access case. Although the 1982 YMCA “Offer to Dedicate” concerns only a ¾ mile section of Hollister Ranch’s 8.5 miles of beach, it represents the first opportunity to bring the issue of Hollister Ranch access into the public discussion.
And now today's front page of the California section of the LA Times:
Judy Alexander of Santa Barbara, who said the Hollister Ranch settlement is concerning, calls on the Coastal Commission to fight for public beach access for all. (photo by David Royal / For the LA Times)
Here's local editor Jerry Roberts' take on it, in Newsmakers
In addition to that and upcoming NPR coverage, we had a San Jose CBS reporter rent a kayak and try to paddle it himself, which caused a splash!
On July 13, the Coastal Commission held a hearing about the settlement and received nearly 1500 emails, nearly all opposing the settlement.
It turns out that the Coastal Commission and the California Coastal Conservancy never made any announcement about the proposed settlement, and as far as the minutes show, never announced any action on the proposed settlement. Nevertheless, their lawyers assert they have approved the settlement and cannot go back on that.
Which leads us to Judge Colleen K. Sterne’s courtroom. Back in May, she was presented with the settlement, but felt she could not rule on it until there was public notice. Judge Sterne set July 23 as the date by which anyone that wanted to intervene in the lawsuit - and to comment upon the Settlement Agreement - to file papers. And that’s what happened today.
The Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, including Gaviota Coast Conservancy, California Coastal Protection Network, Santa Barbara County Trails Council and Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association, filed papers to intervene and object to the Settlement Agreement. The proposed Settlement Agreement is found here.
This is a big undertaking, and the Alliance is asking beach lovers and coastal access champions from across the state to donate to this effort.