Vehicles navigate the narrow, curvy Hollister Ranch Road with signs warning of trespassing. In a settlement agreement with the homeowners association, state coastal officials agreed to give up its claims of public access by land
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Outraged by a deal between wealthy landowners and state officials that bars the public from accessing Hollister Ranch by land, a coalition of activists on Monday took a final shot at opening a secluded stretch of the California coast.

The legal challenge is the public’s only way to intervene in an agreement reached quietly by the state Coastal Commission, the California Coastal Conservancy and the Hollister Ranch Owners Assn. granting access to a section of untarnished shoreline in Santa Barbara County only to select guided tours or those who can boat or paddle in.

Coastal officials in return agreed to give up their claim of any public route by land, capping a bruising legal battle with powerful landowners, who for decades have fought to keep Hollister Ranch’s 8.5 miles of coastline almost entirely to themselves.

This deal is unfair to the beach-going public, said the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, California Coastal Protection Network, Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Assn. and the Santa Barbara County Trails Council in a motion to Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

This proposed settlement was conceived and executed behind closed doors, and offers no benefit to public coastal access,” said Marc Chytilo, an attorney representing the groups. “It has become necessary for community groups to step into the breach and prevent this one-sided relinquishment of public rights and misuse of funds.”