Ah, Hollister Ranch.

Beautiful, unspoiled Hollister Ranch. The last, best place on earth for those with access. To many people who don't have access, they might consider it a giant, wealthy middle finger to the public. As a person with occasional access, through no doing of my own, I’m torn. Normally, I’m a huge supporter of public access. But it’s nearly impossible to visit the Ranch without appreciating that it’s as beautiful and unspoiled as it is precisely because access is limited.

Anyway, a slice of the Ranch is now set to be open to you, the public. Can you believe it? Although, it doesn’t mean you’re going to surf there. Read on.

A long, slow-simmering legal battle has been underway in recent years as advocates for public access pushed to open the place based on a mostly abandoned road into the Ranch built by the YMCA in the 80s, that was intended to allow public access, as a condition of YMCA building a camp there. YMCA sold the property back to Hollister Ranch authorities, but in a complicated bit of real estate law, the public access part of the property remained active.

Coastal access advocates wanted to use that public access road to let the masses in once and for all. The Hollister Ranch Homeowners Association did not want that. So, the two sides just came to an agreement: The California State Coastal Conservancy and the state Coastal Commission gave up their claim to that YMCA access road, in exchange for a three-quarter-mile-long section of beach open to the public near Quarto Canyon.

The catch: you must arrive at that beach as a guided guest of an owner, or if you come by sea, via paddling a surfboard, kayak, rowboat, kitesurf, what have you. Once on the beach, you’re free to enjoy the whole area from the water to the cliffside, but you can’t, say, stroll down to Rights and Lefts for a surf. You get the three-quarters of a mile of beach, and that’s it.

There's still issues with fencing and signage to deal with before the public is allowed in, so don't go rushing the beach just yet.

News of the settlement caught public access fans off guard.

“We’re about public access for all, not just for some. … This is a lot to give up,” Susan Jordan, executive director of the California Coastal Protection Network, told the LA Times. “I’m also troubled by the whole getting there by boat. … Most people don’t have boats. It limits who can go there. Right from the get-go, that’s a huge problem.”

The settlement has been approved, in theory, but the judge presiding over the case wants to be sure the public has a say. The deal’s specifics must be published in a local paper with a call for people to make their voices heard.

“Because the settlement abandons disputed rights of public access, the court raised the issue of whether, and to what extent, notice must, or should, be provided to the affected public,” the ruling explains. “The court is concerned that … affected members of the public would not have sufficient knowledge of the existence of this action and settlement to exercise rights to request intervention should any affected member of the public want to do so.”

“If any motion to intervene is filed, the court can address the merits of the motion(s) at that time,” the ruling stated. “A full inquiry into the fairness of the proposed settlement occurs at the final approval hearing.”

That hearing is scheduled for September 10, 2018.

*update, 5/24/18* This piece has been updated to reflect that the beach won't be open to the public until the signage and fencing plan has been implemented.

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