Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen K. Sterne upheld the public’s right to be heard on coastal justice for all, and refused to approve the proposed settlement between wealthy beach front property owners and state agencies, in a ruling finalized February 8, 2019.
Robert García, Founding Director-Counsel, The City Project, on behalf of California LULAC, GreenLatinos and Native American leader Robert Bracamontes, issued the following statement:
The result and reasoning of the court are precisely correct, placing substance over form in the struggle for coastal justice for all. The property owners “have not have not met their burden to show that the Class Settlement is fair and reasonable.” According to the court, “[T]here is substantial opposition on behalf of the absent but affected public interest.”
The public has a right to coastal justice, and is entitled to be heard on the fairness of the proposed settlement. People who are of color, low income, Native American, disabled, or older, and others have a right to the beach and coastal zone up and down California. Coastal justice is about equal access, human dignity, and freedom. These basic rights are not limited to private beach front property owners who are disproportionately rich and non-Hispanic white, to mainstream environmentalists, or local residents privileged to live nearby. The court’s decision is a victory for coastal justice. California LULAC, GreenLatinos, and The City Project worked with the Gaviota Coast Trails Alliance successfully presenting these arguments in court. The court implicitly recognizes the Attorney General, the Coastal Commission (CCC), and the Coastal Conservancy (CC) do not adequately represent the people on the proposed settlement.
The property owners argued only their private property rights are at stake. The property owners are wrong. “[E]xisting law supports a determination of fairness to ‘all concerned,’” including the public, according to the Court.
While the Court denied the property owner’s motion to approve the settlement without prejudice, on procedural grounds. the Court denied the Alliance’s motion to reject the settlement. This provides coastal justice advocate with opportunities to build broader support for public access out of court.
The Alliance includes the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Santa Barbara County Trails Council, Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association and California Coastal Protection Network.
“Wealthy moneyed interests and powerful state agencies are equal to the public in the eyes of the law, especially when Constitutionally protected rights of coastal access are concerned,” according to Phil McKenna from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.
“A continuous Coastal Trail from Gaviota State Park to Jalama has been Coastwalk’s goal for many years. Access across Hollister Ranch is an essential element, and this ruling is a step forward.” Stated Cea Higgins from Coastwalk.
“Hollister has resisted allowing the public to access beaches and state tidelands for decades,” said Susan Jordan from the Network.
“This ruling reflects the importance of public interest advocates in this lawsuit” explained Marc Chytilo, an attorney to the Alliance.
The City Project, is a non-profit civil rights leader on coastal justice.
LULAC is the nation’s largest, oldest, and most respected Latino organization.
GreenLatinos is a national network of environmental, health equity, and social justice leaders.
For more information see:
The court order in Pappas v California Coastal Conservancy, the policy report Free the Beach!: Coastal Access, Equal Justice, and Hollister Ranch (The City Project Policy Report 2018), and Robert García and Erica Flores Baltodano, Free the Beach! Public Access, Equal Justice, and the California Coast, 2 Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties 143 (2005), as well as the National Park Service Report, Gaviota Coast Feasibility Study & Environmental Assessment (2004).