SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Earlier this month, it seemed the tide might be turning in an effort to restrict access to certain shorelines. But one coastal commissioner tells KPIX 5 it may already be too late.

The legal challenge filed by several environmental groups claims the settlement is deeply flawed, offering only “a limited and dangerous route to the beach” that “poses a real threat of injury or even death.”

The beach in question is Cuarta Canyon north of Santa Barbara.

KPIX Original Reports: Beach Out Of Reach

It’s at the heart of a legal battle pitting deep-pocketed property owners against the public’s right of access.

According to the deal struck by the California Coastal Commission, access is restricted to “from the ocean only,” For most people, that would mean paddling the perilous six miles from Gaviota State Park to the beach and back as KPIX reporters Kiet Do and Devin Fehley did last month.

“It is time for them to open up the beach to the public by land,” said member of the Coastal Commission and San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

Peskin is a fierce advocate for the principle of public access to all of California‘s beaches, including those at Hollister Ranch. He got an earful from critics of the settlement at this month’s Coastal Commission meeting.

“Access by boats and kayaks will not work for many people — certainly not me,” said deal opponent Patricia Verwiel at the meeting held on July 13.

“If you have enough money, if you’re famous enough, if you’re willing to fight long enough, this deal proves you’ll eventually get you way,” said another opponent.

The drumbeat of criticism seemed to sway at least one commissioner.

“I would like to see a conversation about how the Coastal Commission at least can withdraw from this settlement,” said Commissioner Mark Vargas

However, Peskin says — despite his misgivings — it’s too late to scrap the deal and start over.

“I’ve been very clear that this is not an ideal settlement. I also know that in the business of litigation, when you settle, you don’t get to change your mind,” said Peskin. “I respect my fellow Commissioner Mark Vargas. But the reality is the Coastal Commission voted, affixed its name to a document, and we’ve got to live with what we did.”

That leaves it up to a judge in Santa Barbara County to weigh the merits of the challenges to a settlement that‘s increasingly under fire in the court of public opinion.

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