Ed. note: We recently ran a piece from Features Editor Justin Housman (“We Shall Fight on the Beaches, We Shall Fight in the Courts) in which he argues that new challenges to the California Coastal Act by wealthy landowners seeking to prevent public access to their beachfront property may be the sign that it’s time to further strengthen laws allowing access to all beaches in the state—including Hollister Ranch. This rebuttal from Kit Boise-Cossart was sent to us and we republish it here for a nice counterpoint.

In Justin Housman's October 2018 Surfer Magazine article, "We Shall Fight on the Beaches, We Shall Fight in the Courts," he addresses California's limited beach access issues and suggests a possible solution to one of the State's many constrained tidelands. While a noble attempt, Justin's suggested cure misses the mark.

The main villain in the "beach blocking land" controversy involves Martin's Beach where the public had historic entry to the beach from Highway One, including a roadway, parking, toilets, food concession, toll kiosk and gate, plus a modest fee to cover those services. Vinod Khosla, the owner of the land, made the mistake of pulling the plug on a long established public right of way and has now been denied an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justin sweeps the Hollister Ranch into the mix. He implies it's a close cousin of Vinod's misadventures up North. While acknowledging that the "…benefits of restricted access to a beautiful coastline … keeps it pristine" he forgets to tell us how completely different the public's use is, and has been, on that stretch of coastline west of Gaviota State Park.

For one thing, at Martin's Beach Highway One parallels the water a few hundred yards away. On the other hand Hollister Ranch is geographically isolated. Highway One is miles away from the shoreline. It's the nearest highway that parallels the coast between Gaviota and Pismo Beach. Several miles to the east US 101 takes a ninety-degree turn north away from the east-west ocean front and later emerges at Pismo, a distance of sixty miles. There are few access points in between.

Again, unlike Martin's Beach, the broader community has never had the option to legally enter overland to Hollister Ranch. Along with neighboring ranches there are tens of thousands of private acres of contiguous open rangeland and wildlife corridors that wrap around Point Conception and inland – except for one small pinch of Gaviota State Park asphalt that abuts the Ranch's southeast corner. The narrow Park road stops at the property line at a metal gate and pasture fence, sandwiched between the steep foothills, railroad tracks, and ocean cliffs.

While not openly discussed, the public has a number of entry points to this "pristine" coast. As surfers we likely know someone, if not ourselves, who has used one, or both, of the rarely mentioned but widely used public paths to get to this "pristine" coast.

There's the well worn but unofficial trail over Park property, across the railroad tracks, that descends to the sand. Surfers, and other recreational users, have for decades found their way to the breaks beyond. At the right tide one can hike unimpeded to within a mile of Point Conception itself. The beaches, like most of California's, have limited hours controlled only by daylight, weather, and tides.

In addition to the beach trail, the pier at Gaviota has provided boat access for surfers, fishers, and divers. Except that the State can't afford to repair the storm damaged boat hoist on the pier that had been in operation since the 1960's. For now, it's beach launch only.

Most of us who have experienced these options prefer to keep it that way for obvious reasons – the chance to surf some good waves without the pressing crowds. However, several other little known but robust public benefits have also escaped the high profile media noise on the subject.

Since the 1980's the ownership of Hollister Ranch holds regular docent lead tide pool schools for school children. They've also provided tours for birders, botanists, and scientific marine studies.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, Hollister Ranch provides, at no cost to the public, opportunities for underserved and disabled groups to visit and enjoy area beaches. These groups are made up of citizens young and old who may never have the chance to experience an uncrowded coastal environment.

That said, some folks think more people on the beach and in the water is preferable to Justin's vision for what makes a "beautiful" coastline. No doubt with the widespread lack of awareness of the geographic constraints and existing Hollister Ranch managed access programs in mind, Governor Brown in September rightly vetoed a State Assembly bill that included 11th hour language that resurrected an "outdated" 1980's Coastal Commission plan for Hollister Ranch – with a mechanism to fund it for virtually uncontrolled overland entry.

Governor Brown wisely admonished "… relevant state agencies … [to] work together to craft a sensible and fiscally responsible plan." Keep in mind the Coastal Act requires that public visits to our collective tidelands be dovetailed with the protection of private property, agriculture, and both natural and cultural resources. The question now is how do we want our coastline to function and look like in the next 40 or 50 years and beyond?

As Justin states, the Hollister Ranch is indeed "pristine" and has been quietly reaching out for years to the broader community to share, in a responsible manner, one of California's last remaining coastal treasures. Let's hope it remains a "sensible" model for balanced guardianship of our vanishing undeveloped shores.