By Mandy Sackett | Published 2018/08/29
July Hearing Recap
The July California Coastal Commission hearing took place in Scotts Valley near Santa Cruz on Wednesday, July 11 through Friday, July 13. The July meeting agenda had several important items on public access and planning including an application by Opal Cliffs Recreation District to retain an unpermitted gate and gate access fee program. The application was withdrawn by the district, which opted to reject the staff’s recommendations. On Friday, in another high-profile access case, the Coastal Commission heard an informational item on the Hollister Ranch Owners Association’s recent settlement with the Coastal Commission and California Coastal Conservancy regarding an offer to dedicate public access along a parcel to the coast at Cuarta Canyon.
Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County has about 8.5 miles of shoreline, with several cove beaches. A parcel of the Ranch land was sold in 1970 to the YMCA. The YMCA then received a permit in 1980 to construct campgrounds; the permit included an access easement which was subsequently recorded when the owner installed power at the site and began construction. However, the facility was never fully constructed and eventually the parcel was sold again.
According to the Coastal Commission staff report, “Efforts by the HROA to extinguish the OTD were unsuccessful, and the OTD was accepted by the Coastal Conservancy in 2013. Soon thereafter, the HROA filed suit against the Conservancy and the Commission.”
In December 2017, the Commission and Conservancy reached a settlement with the HROA. This settlement would allow the public to gain access to the beach only from the ocean, and require a “managed access” program to bring students and non-profit groups, including those serving underprivileged groups, to various beaches along the Hollister Ranch shoreline.
Critics of the settlement contend that the agreement does not allow for as broad of access as the easement intends. Groups fear that managed access, as proposed in the settlement, could set a bad precedent throughout the state – referred to as “chaperoned” access, it may imply that this type of access is acceptable in other situations to satisfy legal maximum public access requirements. Susan Jordan, of the California Coastal Protection Network, pointed out that the owners within the HROA cumulatively are allowed to have over 1 million private visitors per year. The settlement would allow a maximum of 880 public members per year, Jordan noted, “And that’s if we’re lucky.” The settlement includes a clause where the HROA can limit the number of visitors at their discretion.
Access to Hollister Ranch by water is not reasonable means for the average member of the public given that the nearest boat or watercraft launch location is 3 miles away and the journey is a treacherous one. Additionally, this is an important stretch of coastline to include in the vision for a connected California Coastal trail, which is excluded under this settlement. Hollister Ranch is a pristine and scenic stretch of coast that all California’s residents and visitors should be able to experience, and that the settlement agreement does not go far enough to ensure.
Public Access: Challenges and Progress
The Surfrider Foundation strives to ensure California’s beaches are accessible for all to enjoy. These efforts complement the California Coastal Commission’s education, enforcement and environmental justice endeavors, and are similarly based on the policies enshrined in the Coastal Act. Surfrider presented an update to the Commission at the Friday, July 13 meeting.
The presentation highlighted a celebration, along with Senator Jerry Hill, the County of San Mateo and others, of the successful inclusion of funding for Tunitas Creek Beach and Martins Beach in the state budget. Additionally, Surfrider described their support for an informal coalition comprised of representatives of several nonprofit outdoor organizations whose mission is to help inland youth access the coast. The coalition is working on breaking down tangible and intangible barriers to access. Read more on recent public access victories and challenges here, or watch the full presentation, here.