Deal Would Allow Limited Access to Disputed Beach

A battle over public use of a stretch of California coast has led to a tentative settlement that would allow only limited access.

The deal involving Hollister Ranch west of Santa Barbara received preliminary approval from a judge who expressed concern the public may not be aware of it and sought to give people an avenue to intervene, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The settlement would limit access to those who could boat or paddle at least 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) to reach it, visitors with guides and wealthy landowners who have long fought to keep it off limits.

The settlement was signed by the California State Coastal Conservancy and the state Coastal Commission on one side and the Hollister Ranch Owners Association on the other side.

The unusual deal comes as private interests are challenging California's landmark Coastal Act, which enshrines public access to beaches.

Advocates for coastal access were troubled by the terms of the settlement and were taking a close look at it.

"We're about public access for all, not just for some. . This is a lot to give up," said Susan Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network. "I'm also troubled by the whole getting there by boat. . Most people don't have boats."

Hollister Ranch has 8.5 miles (13.6 kilometers) of beaches, a 2.2-mile-long (3.5-kilometer) shoreline preserve and 136 privately owned parcels.

The settlement would grant the public less than a mile of beach, accessible only by ocean "via surfboard, paddleboard, kayak or soft-bottom boat." The beach is about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from Gaviota State Park beach. The owners association would also expand an after-school tide pool program and organize nonprofit group trips that would bring in about 400 people a year.

The deal also calls for coastal authorities to give up claims to the only land route, which is under legal dispute.

In granting preliminary approval on Monday, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne requested that terms of the settlement be published in a local newspaper along with information about how the public may get involved.

"Because the settlement abandons disputed rights of public access, the court raised the issue of whether, and to what extent, notice must, or should, be provided to the affected public," the tentative ruling said.

Attorneys agreed to send a notice to the Santa Barbara News-Press to be published once a week for four weeks.

Coastal Commission executive director Jack Ainsworth said the panel looked forward to public feedback.

He also described Hollister Ranch as "a challenging site with a complicated history."

Monte Ward, president of the Hollister Ranch Owners Assn., said in a statement that the settlement represents a balance of interests including managed public access to the beach, privacy and security of residents, and protection of valuable natural resources.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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