SANTA BARBARA — A judge has refused to approve an agreement be­tween coastal officials and the owners of a stretch of Southern California coast­line that would allow very limited access to beaches.

Santa Barbara County Su­perior Court Judge Col­leen Sterne ruled last week that the public’s interest was not fully represented in the agreement over access to the 22-square mile Hol­lister Ranch, where weal­thy homeowners live on houses on a limited num­ber of large lots with stun­ning ocean views, the Los An­gel­es Times reported Monday.

The settlement was signed last year by the Cal­if­ornia State Coastal Con­ser­vancy and the state Coast­al Commission on one side and the Hollister Ranch Owners Association on the other.

It would limit access to those who could boat or padd­le two miles to reach it, to visitors with guides, the ranch’s landowners and their guests.

The ruling does not re­ject the settlement, but establishes a path for foes to have it thrown out. Next steps could include a lawsuit ag­ainst the state for failing to include a public process prior to making this deal with Hollister.

The deal was reached behind closed doors and generated public out­rage last year after the Times published the terms. The outcry became a flash­point in the mounting pres­sure on state officials to en­sure that California’s beach­es are open to ev­er­y­one.

The judge’s decision is a major victory for coastal ad­vo­cates who are calling on officials to fight harder against ranch homeowners and give greater public ac­cess to some of Cal­if­ornia’s most coveted beaches and surf breaks.

Sterne, in her ruling Friday, acknowledged “sub­stan­tial opposition on be­half of the absent but af­fect­ed public interest.”

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