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“Really, no one wants to be around surfers. We’re pretty gross, honestly.”

For Californian surfers, Hollister Ranch exerts a unique hold on the imagination.

Whispered stories of perfect waves are passed down from generation to generation. Access map for surfers, by boat or by land. Countless misadventures involving offshore winds, hesitant outboards, or landowners armed with machine guns enliven story sessions in the parking lots.

Covering nearly 14,000 acres, the Ranch is a postcard of a California that hardly exists any more. It’s not untouched at all, but there is a time machine quality to the grass covered hills, canyons cut by streams, dirt roads, and stray cattle.

You should have been here yesterday, it seems.

This week, the Ranch is back in the news.

On September 24, the Coastal Commission published a draft public access plan. Created by four Californian agencies, the plan is nearly 200 pages long and will be the subject of a public workshop during the October session of the Coastal Commission.

Now I understand you might have forgotten all about this whole Hollister Ranch public access saga. I understand you. It’s hard to remember all the things. Let me briefly remind you of how we got there.

About two years ago now, the California legislature passed a law requiring public access to the ranch. The legislation directed state and local land management agencies to develop a plan.

The outcome of their efforts would determine what access might look like and what infrastructure it might require. The law imposed a deadline of April 2022, which is fast approaching.

The adoption of this bill has been the subject of much discussion. The purists decried the filthy hordes of madmen who descended on their Eden unfettered.

Really, no one wants to be around surfers. We’re pretty rude, honestly.

While some of these arguments are easy to laugh at – and I regularly laugh at them – the Ranch’s various land use patterns complicate the planning process. Cattle on the area’s ranches roam free. Fragile habitats and environmental treasures deserve to be protected. Wealthy landowners demand privacy and unobstructed views.

Surfers, well, they just wanna surf.

How will all the dirty hordes of lunatics get to the beach?

Well, that’s one of the big questions.

Any future trails or roads would require easements on private land. Where will these easements fall? How many infrastructures will there be? And who will maintain it? It is enough to throw in the towel, even the most passionate of public policies.

Like, forget about it. Let’s all go to Malibu.

Planning agencies did not go to Malibu. Instead, they released a draft plan, which provides for a two-year trial access period.

So far, no body is responsible for managing this access. This is one of the first steps in the plan.

What does it look like?

During the first two years, up to 100 people per day could be allowed to visit the ranch. A shuttle could transport them to the Ranch’s sought-after beaches, and the shuttle staging area would cost around $ 2 million. The first phase does not envisage any significant beach infrastructure, just porta-pots and bins.

The first two-year period is designed to save time to work out additional details.

An example is an access path by bike and on foot. In fact, building anything could take years of wrangling, as any trail would almost certainly cross private property. It means negotiating easements with landowners. The state legislature has put $ 11 million in this year’s budget for Hollister Ranch projects.

After two years, the project is rather optimistic about a more permanent implementation. Access would be managed by shuttle, trail, or both. Sewer lines and bathrooms could be built. And, the number of daily visitors could increase up to 500 people.

So pretty much the lineup at Trestles on a good day. Eat your heart, Los Angeles.

As you might expect, landowners are not that enthusiastic about this process.

After all, they fought long and hard to keep the doors to their corner of paradise tightly closed. But just as the tides swing, change occurs even though we would prefer it not – and perhaps, especially when we would prefer it not.

You can read the full draft plan via the Coastal Commission.

The Coastal Commission workshop on October 14 is open to the public and will be held on Zoom.

The Commission invites the public to submit their comments in advance to [email protected] and you can also submit a speaker request.

Early next year, the Coastal Commission will meet again to work out the details, including how many people are allowed to visit the ranch during the initial access period.

Expect some form of reservation system. Prepare your refresh keys.

It is one of the joys of California that the beaches are public spaces and that the beaches of the Ranch, as precious as they are, must be opened.

But in its effort to be everything to everyone involved, this process looks a bit like the worst of all possible worlds.

Public access, yes, but not really.

Preservation of the unique qualities of the territory, but not really either.

I don’t think there were porta-pots in Eden.

The best times in surfing are born from the uncertainty and the weird and unexpected things that happen along the way.

For the foreseeable future, scoring good waves at the Ranch will likely depend on the same things he always has: the whims of an outboard motor, a willingness to intrude, or friends in the right places.

And, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.


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