Surfers and fans of open access to beaches received a win in California today when the California Coastal Commission agreed to make a 36-acre swath of land public, extending the Jalama Beach County Park, a pristine piece of public access in Santa Barbara County near the town of Lompoc.
The agreement was made after it was found that landowners of the Cojo Jalama Ranches, formerly known as the Hollister and Bixby Ranches, were developing without permission. An AP report said that landowners were “grading land and installing dozens of water wells,” sans permits. Along with the land transfer, the settlement includes $500,000 in cash to fund public access and environmental projects.
As one can imagine, these ranch lands are incredibly diverse ecosystems, home to several native species. The private land includes 11 miles on either side of Point Conception and boasts some 24,000 acres of undeveloped property (not to mention quality surf). The ranches were purchased in 2007 by the hedge fund, Baupost, and apparently, the Environmental Defense Center has been fighting for years on behalf of its client, the California Native Plant Society, for strong enforcement of environmental laws after “the environmentally-destructive and unlawful development activities that occurred on the ranches.”
It’s a famously hard-to-access area of coast and many local surfers prefer it to stay that way. So there was mixed reaction today–some of it rather nervous–from the surfing community when the news broke. “From interpreting the ruling, (this new access) doesn’t mean surfers will have an easier walk deep into what was formally known as the Bixby Ranch,” a source familiar with the area who chose to remain anonymous told us. However, the same source did say, “the new access will most likely provide much better access to the premium breaks like Tarantulas and Cracks that are within the Jalama Beach area.”
So this is mostly a good thing for surfers: better-known breaks will be easier to get to (although when it’s bigger, Tarantulas does get crowded and has a small takeoff zone, which could prove problematic) while other, more secluded spots will remain remote. Key here is that an incredible part of the California coast gains increased environmental protection after essentially being used and abused. “Enforcement of the Coastal Act is central to protection of the Gaviota Coast,” former President of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy Mike Lunsford told a Santa Barbara news outlet. “We are grateful that the Coastal Commission pursued its investigation and prosecution of these egregious violations.”