A Victory for Coastal Justice

By Robert García | Posted on February 15, 2019

Hollister Beach 410

NRPA reported on the epic struggle to free the California coast at Hollister Ranch and beyond in August 2018. That coverage helped diversify support for coastal justice, and opposition to a proposed settlement between wealthy beachfront private property owners and the state officials that excluded the public. Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Colleen K. Sterne recently upheld the public’s right to be heard on coastal justice for all, and refused to approve the proposed settlement, in a ruling finalized February 8, 2019.

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 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 property owners who are disproportionately rich and non-Hispanic white, mainstream environmentalists and local residents privileged to live nearby. The court’s decision is a victory for coastal justice. 

California League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), GreenLatinos, and The City Project worked with the Gaviota Coast Trail Alliance to present these interests successfully in court. The court implicitly recognizes the California Attorney General, the Coastal Commission and the Coastal Conservancy do not adequately represent the people on the proposed settlement.

The property owners argued only their own 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.

The court denied the property owner’s motion to approve the settlement without prejudice, on procedural grounds. However, the court denied the Alliance’s motion to reject the settlement. This ruling provides coastal justice advocates with opportunities to build broader support for public access in and out of court. The Commission has already scheduled a public hearing on alternatives to protect coastal justice at Hollister in March 2019.

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.

The Gaviota Coast Trail 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,” — Phil McKenna, 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.” — Cea Higgins, Coastwalk

“Hollister has resisted allowing the public to access beaches and state tidelands for decades,” — Susan Jordan, California Coastal Protection Network

“This ruling reflects the importance of public interest advocates in this lawsuit,” — Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Gaviota Coast Trail Alliance

For more information see:

The court order in Pappas v. California Coastal Conservancy

Free the Beach!: Coastal Access, Equal Justice, and Hollister Ranch (The City Project Policy Report 2018)

National Park Service Report, Gaviota Coast Feasibility Study & Environmental Assessment (2004).

Robert García is the Founding Director of and Counsel for The City Project, a nonprofit environmental justice and civil rights organization based in Los Angeles.