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California landowners hit back over beach access

Los Angeles

THE owners of a large parcel of California coastal property have sued to block a recent state law allowing public access to 13.6km of pristine beaches.

The complaint filed on Thursday in a federal court in Los Angeles is the latest twist in a decades-long battle between the state and the owners of the 5,827ha Hollister Ranch, located west of Santa Barbara.

The land includes a cattle ranch dating to 1869, but is now better known as a luxury residential enclave adjoining some of the state's most beautiful coastline.

California has often found itself at odds with wealthy landowners over access to desirable beaches.

Earlier this month, the state joined in the long-running fight between non-profit groups and billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla over his coastal property near San Francisco.

Last year, California governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill allowing public access through Hollister Ranch to some of the beaches and making it a crime to impede implementation of the plan.

According to the lawsuit, the new law violates the owners' constitutional property and due-process rights by giving agents of the California Coastal Commission intrusive powers.

The owners said in a statement they had not been opposed to earlier versions of the bill.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the owners, said in a statement: "But the law was amended in the final days of the 2019 legislative session, without hearings or debate, and ultimately gave state agents the right to invade the ranch property at will and the power to fine and punish any 'action' that the government believes may get in the way of the mission to impose access on the ranch."

It added that the dispute has a long history.

"The California Coastal Commission has spent decades trying to turn private ranch lands into a public area without adequately respecting the private rights of those who live there," the foundation said.

Hollister Ranch is home to a few hundred residents. According to a 2018 Los Angeles Times report, these include celebrities like singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, movie director James Cameron, and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. BLOOMBERG