June 2018 Hearing Report

From ActCoastal

By Mandy Sackett | Published 2018/07/20

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June Coastal Commission Hearing

The Coastal Commission met in Chula Vista June 6-8 at the Chula Vista City Council Chambers. On Wednesday, during the Executive Director’s report, the Director gave an overview of the Hollister Ranch HOA settlement, a significant coastal access issue in Santa Barbara County. The Commission also heard a consistency determination for the U.S. Navy’s 5-Year Testing and Training Activities Program in Southern California.

Hollister Ranch HOA Settlement

On Wednesday morning, Executive Director Jack Ainsworth presented information about a recent legal settlement with Hollister Ranch HOA. The settlement attempts to resolve a public access dispute at a sparsely developed portion of the coast in Western Santa Barbara County known as Hollister Ranch.

The Hollister Ranch HOA, representing a property owner who purchased a property that was previously owned by the YMCA, filed suit against the Coastal Commission to dispute a vertical access easement that was put on the property in the mid-1980s. The original easement required the YMCA to construct a stairway down to the beach and to run a shuttle service from a parking lot for day-use visitors to access the blufftop property

The judge ruled that the offer-to-dedicate vertical easement is, in fact, irrevocable. The parties engaged in settlement discussions, which resulted in an agreement that includes a license for public access to a stretch of beach known as Curate Canyon Beach. The public, however, can only access by way of the ocean – small watercraft, surfboard, paddleboard, etc.. The closest location to launch a watercraft is two miles away. The settlement also includes a “managed” access program on 44 occasions where disabled persons or underserved youth participating in programs can reach the beach with a chaperone.

For decades, the public has been frustrated with the lack of public access to the coast at Hollister Ranch and this settlement agreement does little to address those concerns. Concerns with the settlement include:

  • Lack of public input or notification of the settlement
  • Inconsistency and insufficiency of the settlement compared to the original easement
  • Lack of access from land for the general public
  • Reliance on public funds for the proposed youth access program
  • Potential precedent for accepting “chaperoned” access as acceptable under the Coastal Act to fulfill access requirements.
  • The apparent inability to construct the California coastal trail along this portion of the coastline

Susan Jordan with the California Coastal Protection Network, along with representatives from the Sierra Club and Banning Ranch Conservancy expressed their concerns to the Commission. Ultimately, the Commission agreed to hold a public hearing on the matter at the July meeting. Jordan lamented that it would have better for the Commission to, “go down fighting as opposed to giving up this way.”

Navy 5-Year Training and Testing Program

The U.S. Department of the Navy submitted a consistency determination for their 5-Year Military Readiness Training and Testing Program Activities in Southern California. The training elements involve extensive use of active sonar and explosives.

Based on the Navy’s modeled estimates under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the proposed activities could result in the behavioral harassment of an annual average of 2.37 million marine mammals per year, and injury or potential injury to 576 marine mammals per year. Despite these modeled numbers, the Navy asserts that the activities would not result in population-level effects to any species, and would be consistent with Coastal Act Section 30230.

The staff recommendation found the Navy’s plan inconsistent with Section 30230, based on the limited effectiveness of Navy detection and monitoring measures; uncertainties in assessing whether population-level effects on marine species may be occurring; and, the Navy’s unwillingness to limit, in a meaningful way, its sonar and explosives testing and training in areas of special biological significance for certain marine species (blue, fin, and beaked whales) – including California’s marine protected area network and national marine sanctuaries.

Staff’s proposed special conditions would require the Navy to establish larger shutdown areas if marine mammals or turtles are sighted, prohibit harmful activities in sensitive areas, including MPAs, sanctuaries and important habitat areas, reduce activities in low visibility conditions, limit vessels speeds, improve observer effectiveness.

Given the Navy’s historic and current refusal to accept staff’s proposed special conditions, opponents, including Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Banning Ranch Conservancy, California Coastal Protection Network, San Diego Coastkeeper, and Surfrider Foundation, urged Commissioners to instead object to the consistency determination. Opponents assert that national security and environmental protections are not mutually exclusive and that the Navy can to do more to mitigate their impacts to marine life.

Ultimately, the Commission agreed with opponents and unanimously objected to the consistency determination.

See the full June hearing report and vote charts here.