Coastal officials in California knew decades ago it would take money to open Hollister Ranch to the public.
So they entrusted Santa Barbara County with $1 million to someday be spent on land acquisition, trails and bike paths while they duked it out with powerful property owners over access to some of California’s most coveted surf breaks and beaches.
After more than 30 years of stops and stalls, officials are now gearing up for what might be the most aggressive fight yet over the 8.5-mile stretch of pristine coastline. But the money was spent long ago on other projects.
“That $1 million would go a heck of a long way,” said California Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas, when told by a reporter that the county had used the funds.
For so long, Hollister was considered such an imposing force that access to the beach came to be seen as an impossible feat — an attitude that has kept the public locked out all these years.
Since the passage of the California Coastal Act in 1976, Hollister Ranch has managed to avoid providing beach access for all.
But when Chevron sought to build a pipeline through Hollister ranch to transport oil from offshore platforms, the Coastal Commission saw the permit process as a creative way to finally obtain public access. When the agency approved the project in 1985, it settled on a condition: Chevron had to pay $1 million to implement a public access program at Hollister Ranch.
That $1 million went into Santa Barbara County’s Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund, which oil and gas companies pay into each year as a condition of operation. It finances projects such as habitat restoration, marine mammal protection, education programs, coastal recreation and tourism.
The fund has provided more than 300 grants over the years, and the annual allocation by the county Board of Supervisors is a big show of environmental and community groups pitching their many projects for funding.
With so many coastal issues in need of money, and no access agreement in sight with Hollister Ranch by the late 1980s, the county promptly gave away the $1 million to other projects.