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Free the Beach! Coastal Access, Equal Justice, and Hollister Ranch – Policy Report

Coastal justice along the California beach and coastal zone is at stake at Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County under a proposed class action settlement. Hollister Ranch is 14,500 acres in size, with 8.5 acres of shoreline. A private gate and road prevents public access. The beach area covered in the Settlement is about 3,880 feet long. The proposed settlement disproportionately harms people who are of color, low income, Native American, disabled, or older, in violation of equal access, environmental justice, antidiscrimination, and democratic participation provisions of state law. The settlement should be rejected in all respects.

Disproportionately wealthy white private property owners and their one million privileged private visitors per year enjoy access by land. In contrast, the proposed Settlement limits access in two major ways. Access by land would be limited to at most 1,288 people per year: That’s 444 disabled or “underserved” youths per year; 400 people through other non-profit programs, and 444 K-12 students in tide pool programs.

Access by water would be limited to fool-hardy souls willing to risk their lives in a miles-long trip on a small surf board, paddle board, kayak, or rubber boat in a round trip to the beach, leaving by sundown, subject to treacherous weather, winds, waves, tides, and currents. People affluent enough to own or rent expensive water toys and pay for lessons would disproportionately have water access, compared to people who are of color, low income, disabled, or older.

This report analyzes “the fairness of the Settlement to all concerned,” and whether “the public has pre-existing rights to use of the affected beach that are broader than the rights licensed under the Settlement.” The 2004 National Parks Service (NPS) study of the Gaviota Coast, which covers the settlement area, provides alternatives for access for all that is fair, fiscally responsible, environmentally and economically sound, and race neutral.

People of color and low-income disproportionately lack equitable access to beaches and the coastal zone in California, including Hollister Ranch beach. These numerical disparities reflect a continuing history, legacy, and pattern of discrimination in coastal access. The proposed Settlement perpetuates these access disparities.


Equal access to the Hollister Ranch beach and coastal zone must address the following concerns:

  1. Include full and fair public participation in the decision making process, including people who are of color, low income, disabled, or older.
  2. A beach and coastal access program must recognize that coastal land below the mean high tide line, and the first three miles of ocean, are public trust resources, and belong to all the people of California. Programs, activities, and access points need to provide recreational opportunities for people of all races, cultures, incomes, abilities, and ages. The program can be done in cooperation with area landowners in accordance with reasonable and legitimate interests in private property, privacy, and agricultural operations.
  3. The NPS Study provides a road map for coastal access for all through a program that is sensible, fiscally responsible, environmentally and economically sound, and equitable for all.
  4. Fair and equitable alternatives include: continuing and enhancing local and state management, programs, and activities; a trails system; numerous access points and methods; education programs including culture, history, art, and the environment in schools, interpretive elements at the beach, and online; adaptive management strategies; and implementation monitoring; protection for Native American people, places, and values, and respectful government to government consultation; opportunities for youth jobs and small, women, minority, and veteran owned enterprises; beach facilities including restrooms; shuttle van, pedestrian, and bike access; safe and affordable water access including motorized commercial boats, and transit to reach the beach and coastal zone, such as Every Kid in the Park transportation and education programs.
  5. Coastal access must provide protection for Native American people, places, and values, and respectful government to government consultation.
  6. Coastal access must comply with the Coastal Act as amended in 2016, Government Code section 11135, and other applicable laws

Download Free the Beach! Coastal Acess, Equal Justice, and Hollister Ranch (The City Project Policy Report 2018) by
California LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens
Robert Bracamontes (Bob Black Crow, Yu-va’-tal ‘A’lla-mal, Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe) &
The City Project


Visit Spencer Robins, Hollister Ranch: The Last Beach in Southern California (KCETLink 2018).