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Program to open access to Hollister Ranch beaches will miss April deadline

The program to open access to the beaches on Hollister Ranch is delayed
The program to open access to the beaches on Hollister Ranch is delayed

The beaches on Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County were expected to open for public access next month but the state agencies working on the program recently announced that they won’t make the deadline.

Hollister Ranch is a privately-owned subdivision with homes and a working cattle ranch on the Gaviota coast. The public can’t reach the 8.5 miles of shoreline by land except at low tide or as part of an approved educational or cultural visit.

But in California, beaches are public up to the mean high tideline – a measurement used to define where land and water intersect. Legislation AB 1680 (Limón) signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019, set a deadline for implementation of a public access program by April 1, 2022.

“We are not able to meet that deadline. We have not completed the program at this point,” Linda Locklin said.

Locklin, from the California Coastal Commission, is part of the State Agency Team working with representatives from the Coastal Conservancy, Department of Parks and Recreation, and the State Lands Commission.

Locklin said tribal leadership is also engaged in the process, and public workshops have allowed for wide community participation.

A draft program, with phased-in access that caps visitor capacity and relies on shuttles and trails for transportation, was proposed last fall, but Locklin said concerns still exist about potential environmental impacts.

“There [were] a number of general public comments, as well as commissioner comments asking questions about the impacts of public access,” she said.

Locklin said it will take another 18 months to allow for a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Report. She said the extra time will ensure compliance and could head-off challenges going forward.

Kit Boise-Cossart, a longtime Hollister Ranch resident, said the additional studies are important.

“The program that’s been proposed, if fully implemented, would have a huge impact on what’s been called a wild coastline,” he said.

Given the rugged terrain, Boise-Cossart said docent-led hikes and guided activities seem like a manageable approach.

Find more information and ongoing updates on the California Coastal Commission 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.