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Hollister Ranch beach access planning underway

California Coastal Commission
One of the beachs surrounded by the Hollister Ranch property.

Hollister Ranch is a 14,000-acre property located on the Santa Barbara County coast, between Goleta and Point Conception. A gated community surrounded by a working cattle ranch, real estate ads for Hollister Ranch tout its eight-and-a-half miles of private beach frontage.

But a new law authored by Santa Barbara state assembly member Monique Limon requires increased public access to Hollister Ranch’s seashore.

Kicking off the first of three public workshops on what's called the Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Plan, Limon stressed the public’s input is vital. Signed by the governor last year, Limon’s Coastal Access bill is the reason for the community meetings.

“I was very clear, and those at the table also agreed, that maybe we could put guidelines, and a way to get to an outcome, but that we would not dictate exactly what that outcome looked like without public input,” said Limon.

Credit CCC

The property on Hollister Ranch is privately-owned. The beach—up to the mean tideline—belongs to the public, just like every other beach in California. But if you’re not a Hollister Ranch homeowner, you can only access the area by water, like by paddleboard or kayak, or at low tide, by foot. The homeowners regularly grant access for educational programs and scientific research, however, there is no way for the public to access the miles-long stretch of beaches.

This is a hotly-contested issue. The last coastal access plan was amended in 1982 and never fully implemented due to court cases and other delays. Limon’s legislation calls for an updated plan, which is moving forward even as challenges continue to mount.

“We want this to be resolved,” said Limon. “We don’t want another 40 years of this community division.”

The committee overseeing the process includes representatives from the California Coastal Commission, Coastal Conservancy, State Parks, and State Lands Commission. Part of the committee’s charter is public outreach.

Noaki Schwartz from the Coastal Commission says the goal is, “to really reach out to the public, to pull them into this process and to hear more about what kind of access they’d like to see to the Hollister Ranch beaches.”

The first meeting on Feb. 20 drew approximately 150 people to the Goleta Valley Community Center.

Kit Boise-Cossart has lived on Hollister Ranch since 1977. He’s a member of the co-op that runs the cattle operation and he said he thinks residents are open to ideas for expanding access in a responsible, safe way.

“I think they’re very open to models like the Arroyo Hondo Preserve in the Gaviota area that’s run by the Santa Barbara Land Trust,” said Boise-Cossart. “There’s also the UC Reserve System, which is away from the coast, [but] they have the Sedgwick Ranch.”

The planning process must be completed by next year, although public access to Hollister Ranch is not expected until 2022.

The public is invited to participate through meetings, surveys and written comments. Find more information on the Hollister Ranch page on the California Coastal Commission’s website.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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