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.
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.
Supporters are encouraged to contribute to what is expected to be a protracted effort for public access to Hollister Ranch.
For more information, contact Marc Chytilo, Law Office of Marc Chytilo,
Attorney to the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance
Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance Files to Intervene in Hollister Ranch Public Access Settlement
Settlement is Unfair to the Public and Should Not Be Approved
SANTA BARBARA, CA – Today, the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance (the Alliance) filed a formal request to the Santa Barbara Superior Court to intervene in the ongoing lawsuit Pappas v. California Coastal Conservancy concerning public access to a 3⁄4 mile stretch of Hollister Ranch.
The Alliance argues that the public was not adequately represented, consulted or informed when the California Coastal Commission and the State Coastal Conservancy and the Hollister Ranch Homeowners proposed to settle the litigation initiated in 2013 by the Hollister Ranch Homeowners.
“This proposed settlement was conceived and executed behind closed doors, and offers no benefit to public coastal access while conferring substantial advantages to Hollister Ranch as they prevent access to a public beach,” stated one of the Alliance lawyers, Marc Chytilo. “It has become necessary for community groups to step into the breach and prevent this one-sided relinquishment of public rights and misuse of funds.”
To support representation of the public’s interest in access at Hollister Ranch, donate to the Gaviota Coastal Trail Campaign.
The terms of the proposed settlement permanently extinguish rights of public access that were a condition of a coastal development permit obtained by the YMCA back in 1980 that provided road access for the public to a 3,880 foot stretch of a beach on the gated Hollister Ranch. If the Settlement is allowed to stand, the state would abandon all rights to access this beach over land, and only public access from the water would be would be possible. The settlement limits the boats that can be landed to small soft-bottomed boats no larger than 12 feet, paddle or surf boards, and kayaks no larger than 16 feet.
The Settlement requires people to paddle or boat 3+ miles from Gaviota State Park to Cuarta Canyon Beach and then return the same day, in potentially hazardous wind and sea conditions that typically arise in afternoons.
Sea and weather conditions on the Gaviota Coast can change rapidly without warning. Winds are often calm and seas smooth in the morning, lulling boaters. In the afternoon the sea is typically much rougher, and on some days, strong Sundowner winds blow ferociously down canyons. On the Gaviota Coast, down-canyon winds are funneled out to the ocean, and create challenges for inflatable boats, kayaks and paddleboards that are allowed to land at Cuarta Canyon Beach. More public notice of the proposed settlement would have afforded an opportunity for the public to inform the Commission and Conservancy of these significant hazards.
As Chytilo stated to the Coastal Commission on July 13, “The Settlement Agreement puts the public in harm’s way.”
Significantly, the Settlement Agreement exempts Hollister Ranch from liability for injuries or deaths that might occur from members of the public attempting to use this beach. The Settlement Agreement continues Hollister Ranch’s existing programs providing highly restricted land-based access for groups of school children and non-profits who serve children, underserved populations and the disabled, but shifts the funding of this program to state agencies, and improperly commits restricted “in-lieu fees” to this program instead of securing public access to Hollister Ranch as is required by law. “The in-lieu fees are intended to fund a Hollister Ranch subdivision-wide public access plan that calls for completion of the Coastal Trail - a pedestrian trail and bike path - that will connect Gaviota State Park to Jalama County Park,” explained Cea Higgins, Executive Director of Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association. “We seek the connectivity of the Coastal Trail through Hollister Ranch.”
“Three decades ago, special legislation authorized Hollister Ranch owners to participate in an in-lieu fee program whereby they could proceed with construction of their homes and estates without providing an individual Offer-to-Dedicate (OTD) public access as a condition of their coastal development permits. The legislation required them to pay a $5,000 in-lieu fee per permit to a special public access fund and required that the funds to be used to provide public coastal access to the Hollister Ranch subdivision ‘as expeditiously as possible.’ Thirty-five years later, Hollister Ranch Homeowners enjoy their private gated community and the homes they have built, while the public remains unfairly and illegally shut out,” said Susan Jordan, Executive Director of the California Coastal Protection Network.
“There have been few new coastal trail segments added in Santa Barbara County in recent years, and one of the highest priorities is gaining access and a Coastal Trail through Hollister Ranch,” declared Mark Wilkinson, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Trails Council. “At the July Coastal Commission meeting, the Alliance requested that the Commission and the Conservancy withdraw from the Legal Settlement. Given that neither the Commission nor the Conservancy have chosen to do so, the community must step up and stop this flawed and highly deficient Settlement Agreement. The Judge’s foresight to require that the public be informed of the Settlement before her final ruling created an opportunity to request intervention. Otherwise, the public would continue to have been shut out of public access to Hollister Ranch and its 8 1⁄2 miles of extraordinary coastline, possibly forever."
"We're grateful for the opportunity to request intervention and we intend to fight for the public coastal access rights guaranteed by the California Constitution and the California Coastal Act,” said Phil McKenna, board member of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.
A hearing on the Alliance application for intervention has been set for Monday, August 20th at 9:30 am. A hearing on the fairness of the Settlement Agreement will be heard on September 10th, 2018 at 1:30 pm.
Members of the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance include the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, the Santa Barbara County Trails Council, Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association and the California Coastal Protection Network.
The goals of the Alliance are to:
- preserve the use of the Hollister Ranch Road to provide safe access to the beach,
- prevent the use of the In-Lieu Fees to operate Hollister’s private managed access program,
- preserve them for use in acquisition of easements to complete the Coastal Trail,
- and to secure a permanent Coastal Trail Corridor for the public’s non-vehicular use.
"The City Project, GreenLatinos, and California LULAC support the Alliance to advance equal access to the California coast. We oppose the proposed settlement agreement as unfair and inadequate, especially for people of color and low income people with limited or no access to the beach and coast. These communities disproportionately lack access, are harmed by sea level rising and climate warming, and are ignored or marginalized by the state. Free the Beach!” stated Robert García, Director and Counsel to The City Project.
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.”
Supporters are encouraged to contribute to what is expected to be a protracted effort to achieve public access to Hollister Ranch.
Gaviota Coast Conservancy counsel Marc Chytilo and Santa Barbara kayak guide Tamlorn Chase were interviewed for San Francisco CBS Channel 5 regarding the Hollister Ranch Settlement and the difficulty of actually accessing the beach by sea as the settlement proposes.
Together with a coalition of five organizations, Gaviota Coast Conservancy recently issued a group letter on the settlement to the CA Coastal Commission. The group invites supporters to donate to fuel the Hollister Ranch Coastal Trail Campaign.
As covered in this recent piece in the Santa Barbara Independent, below is the group letter that was sent to the CA Coastal Commission before their hearing on the Hollister Ranch Settlement. We invite donations to the Hollister Ranch Coastal Trail Campaign. Thank you for your support.
Honorable Coastal Commissioners,
This letter is submitted on behalf of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC), California Coastal Protection Network (CCPN), the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club, Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association, and the Santa Barbara County Trails Council (SBCTC). Together we are committed to effectuating a continuous Coastal Trail from Gaviota State Park to Jalama Beach County Park, including appropriate vertical access to the ocean.
The public’s right to access the ocean is guaranteed by the California Constitution, and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) is charged by the Coastal Act to maximize public access to and along the coast. However, 36 years since the legislature specifically directed the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) “to implement, as expeditiously as possible, the public access policies and provisions of [the Coastal Act] at the Hollister Ranch”, there is still no public access whatsoever to any portion of the 8.5 miles of beach fronting Hollister Ranch.
The YMCA OTD (Offer to Dedicate) is, to our knowledge, the only OTD that exists that could be used to provide public access anywhere at Hollister Ranch. The YMCA OTD is admittedly limited in scope, but if effectuated would allow up to 50 members of the public to access the Cuarta Canyon Beach at Hollister Ranch over land per day. The ability to access this beach over land is especially important. First, the public already has the legal right to access the beach from the ocean up to the mean high tide line.
The small amount of dry sand opened to the public at Cuarta Canyon Beach will disappear as sea level rises, so the only permanent public benefit that can be gained from the YMCA OTD is access by land. Second, ocean-only access can be extremely dangerous and available only to the most able-bodied and experienced individuals, not to the public at large.
The Settlement Agreement requires the CCC and SCC to permanently relinquish the public’s right to access Cuarta Canyon Beach over-land, conveyed by the OTD, without providing any substitute access for the general public. The Managed Access Program provided for in the Settlement Agreement is extremely limited both in the number of individuals that could access Hollister Ranch (maximum 880/year as opposed to 18,250/year that are allowed under the OTD), and in the narrow category of individuals that qualify for the Program (school children as part of the Tidepools program, disabled individuals, children, and individuals from underserved communities to the extent they are chaperoned by an approved non-profit). Moreover, while the Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association (HROA) currently funds a similar managed access program,
1 Art. X, § 4
2 Public Resources Code § 30001.5
3 Public Resources Code § 30610.8
the Settlement Agreement shifts the burden of funding the program to the State by diverting “in-lieu access fees” collected from individual development permits at Hollister Ranch that were intended to fund a public access plan required by the Legislature in 1982. Once depleted, the approximately $295,000 of in-lieu access fees currently in hand will no longer be available for public acquisition of public access easements at Hollister Ranch, denying critical funding for easements to complete the California Coastal Trail, which significantly could include portions of the Rancho Real Road easement relinquished by the Settlement Agreement.
The HROA would have us believe that the OTD conveys no public rights, but we have independently evaluated the issues and evidence relevant to the HROA litigation over the YMCA OTD, and agree with Judge Sterne that there are material factual issues that are yet to be resolved. Judge Sterne has previously ruled that while the easement contemplated by the OTD may not itself be enforceable, there exists an “irrevocable implied license” for the public to access and enjoy Cuarta Canyon Beach. This important ruling should not be abandoned in exchange for, at best, temporary public use of a sliver of dry sand and an invitation for the HROA to exhaust the Hollister Ranch-specific in-lieu access fee funds. Given the importance of the potential public access rights at issue, it is critical that the public have an opportunity to weigh in in a substantive way regarding what constitutes safe and appropriate public access to Cuarta Canyon Beach.
Accordingly, we ask that the Coastal Commission first, not oppose intervention by the public in the Pappas v. State Coastal Conservancy, et al. litigation; second, direct its attorneys to withdraw from the Settlement Agreement; and third, direct its staff to immediately develop and implement an action program for the completion of the Coastal Trail across Hollister Ranch.
Phil McKenna, Land Use Committee Chair
Gaviota Coast Conservancy
Susan Jordan, Executive Director
California Coastal Protection Network
Cea Higgins, Executive Director
Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Ass’n
James Hines, Chair
Sierra Club, Los Padres Chapter
Otis Calef, President
Santa Barbara County Trails Council
Public Access at Hollister Ranch:
Please Email the Coastal Commission
Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association (HROA) and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) have formulated a wildly imperfect settlement that seeks to resolves a long-standing dispute about public access to a portion of the Ranch. It’s a very long story, stretching back to 1973 with a changing cast of characters, but always a firm resolve by the HROA to thwart the public’s ability to gain appropriate public access to the coastal portion of the Ranch.
The settlement has been agreed to by the HROA and the CCC, but awaits judicial approval that will involve a hearing in Santa Barbara Superior Court on July 23, 2018.
In the meantime, the CCC will accept public testimony about the settlement. This is your opportunity to express your opinion.
Please send a brief email by 5 pm on Friday, July 6,
to the CA Coastal Commission at Hollister@coastal.ca.gov
- The Commission should withdraw approval of the settlement as it fails to reflect the objectives of the Coastal Act and the desires of the broad public.
- Why has public access at Hollister Ranch, as clearly intended by the Legislature, been blocked for 35 years?
- The settlement disregards the interest of the general public. Those without the financial resources of an owner and/or the physical capacity to land on the beach from the ocean will be unable to make use of the beach.
- The settlement provides very limited access to the general public, i.e., access to the sand above the mean high tide to the bluff toe over the 3880 feet of Cuarto Beach. The public’s access to this “dry sand” is hazardous, as it is only accessible through the surf after of voyage of 2 miles from Gaviota State Park.
- The limited increase of a maximum of 480 individuals per year to Cuarto Beach through a Ranch-managed access program will be paid for by public funds earmarked for the realization of the CA Coastal Trail and beach access at the Ranch. The settlement allows for the inappropriate use of public money.
- The parties to this agreement (CA Coastal Commission and Hollister Ranch Owners Association) explicitly tried to exclude the public from commenting or participating in the settlement when it was clear that the public has a strong interest in the matter.
- An important easement for access across the first 3.5 miles of the Ranch will be waived in the settlement.
Please take our Hollister Ranch Survey
Here are the main elements of the settlement:
- Allows the public to use a 3,880 foot section of dry coastal sand (we already have the right to the wet sand) that can be accessed only by sea after a 2 mile voyage from Gaviota State Park, braving the gale force winds of Gaviota Canyon and the surf of the Ranch.
- Uses public money collected over decades that is intended to be spent on the Coastal Trail and coastal access, for Hollister Ranch expenses in bringing 480 school children and 400 underserved or disabled individuals per year onto the Ranch in a managed access program.
- Voids potential road access for up to 50 people/day to 3.5 miles of the Ranch access road.
- Creates a “poison pill” that eliminates the modest benefits of the settlement if condemnation is ever undertaken to secure an easement for the trail.
- Sets a very bad precedent.
Very little is gained by the public and much is precluded.
You can review the emails submitted a https://www.coastal.ca.gov/meetings/agenda/#/2018/7 to gain a sense of the broad statewide opposition to this settlement; scroll down a page to item #5 “Hollister Ranch” and click on “Correspondence”.
While on that web page if you click on “Hollister Ranch” you will find the staff report providing background and a summary of the settlement. The “Exhibits” page provides maps of the Ranch and photos of Cuarto Canyon, the site of the access under consideration.
You can attend the Coastal Commission meeting and speak directly to the Commissioners on Friday July 13, at the Scotts Valley Hilton, 6001 La Madrona Drive, in Scotts Valley. The item is first on the agenda and will be heard about 9:30.
You can view a real time video of the meeting at http://www.cal-span.org/.
This is an historic moment to inform the Commission of the public’s objection to a settlement that will void appropriate public access at Hollister Ranch, potentially forever.