The region presently known as the Hollister Ranch is defined by 14,400 acres (58 km2) of fallow and fertile fields, mountains and valleys along the Pacific coast of California between Gaviota State Park and Point Conception. It was the site of some of the oldest known human settlements in the new world, the last "native" population of which was the Chumash. The Spanish Portolà expedition, first European land explorers of California, traveled along its coast in 1769. It became part of the extensive Spanish land grant known as Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio, operated by the family of José Francisco Ortega from 1794.
Cattle ranching history
A cattle ranch since the days of the Ortegas, Hollister Ranch is the fourth largest cattle ranch in Santa Barbara County having shipped over 1,500,000 pounds (680,000 kg) of beef in the summer of 2005. As a result of the Hollister Ranch Owners' Association CC&Rs, Santa Barbara County zoning and California's Agricultural Preserve Program, when fully built out, over 98% of the property will continue to be devoted to well managed and sensitive cattle grazing. Other benefits to Hollister Ranch owners as a result of the cattle operation include a reduced fuel load in the event of range fire and the tax benefits that result from adherence to the restrictions imposed by the Uniform Rules of the Agricultural Preserve. Relative to the land prices for parcels in Hollister Ranch, however, the cattle ranching is probably uneconomic, and may continue largely for the sake of tax breaks and aesthetic considerations.
The Hollister family, previous owners of the property, allowed some recreational use of the area. In the late 1950s, they granted a pass to the regional Sportsman Hunting Club, which later split into several smaller clubs, including the Santa Barbara Surf Club. During over a decade of regular use, the Santa Barbara Surf Club discovered and named many surfing spots off the coast of 8 miles (13 km) of beach, such as Razor Blades, Drake's, Little Drake's, Utah, Rights and Lefts, St. Augustine, Lefts and Rights, and on the adjacent Bixby Ranch land, Cojo Point, Perko's Point, and Government Point.
Today recreational use of the beach and surrounding area is restricted to both the owners of the Hollister and Bixby Ranches, and the public, who access the area by foot along the beach and by boat in the offshore waters. California law allows public access to all land below the mean high tide line, and many surfers, divers, and fisherman access the State waters by boating along the shoreline of the coast from Gaviota to Jalama Beach Parks, mainly from Gaviota State Park.
Development and environmental concerns
Many associated with the present Hollister Ranch see themselves as responsible stewards of the land, ardently claiming to have worked out a successful formula balancing ecological preservation with residential development which functions within both a working commercial agricultural operation and a healthy natural habitat with a wide range of flora and fauna. But non-owners argue that the owners' formula precludes the public access through and over their property to beaches, mandated by California state law, and that the Hollister Ranch Association beaches remain open to heavy vehicular traffic from registered beach going vehicles. In addition, non-owners argue that the working cattle operation is subsidized by the owners and exists primarily for tax-front purposes. Environmentalists note the potential impact such an operation could have on native flora and fauna. Thus, a sharp difference of opinion exists between Ranch owners and non-owners, some of whom view Ranch policies as exclusivist and disingenuous.
In 2004, the National Park Service abandoned a proposal to designate parts of the Gaviota coastline, including the seashore in front of Hollister Ranch, as National Seashore. Local landowners, especially those in Hollister Ranch, mounted a lobbying campaign to oppose the study. The Hollister Ranch Owners' Association assessed its members at least $300,000 to hire a former congressman to lobby against the National Seashore proposal.
Previous projects proposed since the 1970s have included oil development, a nuclear power plant and high-density housing.
For over twenty years Santa Barbara area grade school children have been encouraged to participate (at no cost to the schools) in the Hollister Ranch Conservancy's "Tidepool Classroom" that preserves intertidal life forms not found elsewhere along the coast.
Hollister Ranch owners are currently restricted in terms of development in a situation that many say[attribution needed] will result in efficient preservation of one of the last vestiges of the natural California coastline. In the view of Hollister Ranch property owners, they (private owners) are judged better stewards than regional public, state or national preservation projects.
Hollister Co., a clothing brand created by Abercrombie & Fitch, purports to be the outcome of a surf shop founded by John J. Hollister on Hollister Ranch in 1922. Surfers in the Santa Barbara area know that this is incorrect, and merely a pleasant fiction created by the company’s marketing program. There were few surfers at Hollister Ranch until the 1960s, and there has never been an (official) surf shop near there. Hollister Ranch is known and loved by recreational enthusiasts from around the world for its good surf, fishing, and diving opportunities. Not unlike the Channel Islands National Park, with limited public access, hence reduced crowds and low environmental impacts, the area is generally called “The Ranch” by surfers, divers, and fisherman. Occasional prominent swells and good fishing seasons regularly inspire the public to both “boat in” and walk from Gaviota State Park on the East and Jalama County Park on the West to access the area’s shoreline and offshore waters.
- Heller, Greg (November 2000). "The Ranch-History". Surfing-A-to-Z: The Largest Surfing Encyclopedia. www.surfline.com. Retrieved June 5, 2011.