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Hollister Update: Elephant Delivers a Mouse

No news was good news for environmentalists in Santa Barbara Superior Court on Monday, as they encountered no opposition to their bid to challenge a controversial legal settlement over public coastal access at Hollister Ranch.

“We’re in,” Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Gaviota Coastal Trail Alliance, said in the hallway after a hearing in Department 5 at the Courthouse, where lawyers for Hollister landowners punted on their chance to resist last week’s ruling that allows the enviros to intervene in the matter.

Bottom line: after a big build-up to the hearing (we name no names), the elephant gave birth to a mouse.

Not so tentative. As loyal Newsmakers recall (catch-up reading is here, here and here)Judge Colleen Sterne’s pro-environmentalist decision, issued Friday, officially was “tentative.”

The Coastal Commission, the defendants in the long-running litigation, had not objected to the Trail Alliance bid to intervene in the case; technically also as defendants, the enviros are charging that the commission attorneys did not adequately protect the public interest.

The plaintiff Hollister Ranch Owners Association, however, did object to the intervention, in their filings on the matter.

But Beth Collins, the association’s lawyer, did not argue against Judge Sterne's ruling in court, and wisely so, because the worthy jurist clearly had no intention of changing her mind.

(Spotted: Steve Amerikaner, world’s greatest land use lawyer; Collins’s colleague at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP; and the presumptive mastermind of the disputed settlement deal, watched the proceedings amid the hoi polloi in the cheap seats. Offering no comment, he strongly resembled the cat who ate the canary. But we digress).

Deep, deep in the weeds. For the record, there was one legal wrinkle worth noting, that may or may not end up being significant.

Attorney Marcus Bird, representing the “plaintiff classes” in the class action, urged the judge not to cancel a previously scheduled “fairness hearing” in September to confirm that the settlement is acceptable to all members of the class, i.e. all 600-or-so Hollister landowners, not just those represented by Amerikaner's firm.

This "fairness" business derives from the mystifying ways, means and procedures of class action suits, which are only slightly more complicated than quantum physics or relativity theory; the judge appeared wary of Bird's plea to reschedule the September hearing and took it under advisement, while Chytilo also was reluctant to go along, each of them, perhaps, sensing a trap that could imperil consideration of the many broader issues in the case down the road.

Judge Sterne said she’d decide the "fairness" question in the next day or two. At post time, however, the next hearing in the environmentalists’ effort to derail the quarrelsome settlement remains set for Nov. 19.

There were no injuries.


Images: Elephant eyes new offspring (Calbuzz); Steve Amerikaner circa 2006 (Paul Wellman); Deep in the woods guy (Shutterstock); Yes we have no bananas (The Wartime Kitchen).

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