Siding with local hikers, county officials, and staff recommendations, the California Coastal Commission unanimously voted during its July 11 meeting to issue a cease and desist order and notice of violation to Ontario Ridge property owner Rob McCarthy.
McCarthy had already been ordered to remove unpermitted fences and signs on his property that deter access to a popular hiking trail, but this vote approved even stronger, more formal enforcement mechanisms.
“I’ve been on the Coastal Commission for 3-1/2 years, and I’ve never seen such a flagrant disregard for the law,” said Commissioner Wendy Mitchell. “I’m offended, and I’m sorry that the public has had to deal with this.”
Local Commissioner Erik Howell added that McCarthy’s actions were “outrageous” before making a motion to approve the cease and desist order and notice of violation, which passed unanimously.
This skirmish dates back to November 2013, when McCarthy first started installing barbed wire fences and “no trespassing” signs on several parts of the property, blocking access to the Ontario Ridge trail, which overlooks Pirate’s Cove and Avila Beach.
After an outcry from local hikers, the commission and San Luis Obispo County authorities eventually determined that the fences and signs were illegal and infringed on an existing public access easement.
McCarthy subsequently removed some—but not all—of the fences and signs, and has installed new barriers as recently as May.
“[McCarthy] has exhibited a malicious and blatant disregard for public access,” said Tarren Collins, a local activist, hiker, and attorney who has spearheaded efforts to protect the trail.
Reached for comment via email after the commission decision, McCarthy told New Times “this whole drama is just completely unnecessary.”
He reiterated his argument that he fenced off the trail because he considers it dangerous and wants to relocate it.
“I am willing to have a trail on my property—but it needs to be a safe trail that is properly designed and permitted,” McCarthy wrote.
He also echoed previous legal threats, adding that he’ll sue the county if he’s unable to negotiate a suitable trail relocation and obtain a permit for “appropriate” fencing.
“If I am not given a [permit] for the fence, then I will file a 5th amendment takings lawsuit,” McCarthy wrote. “If SLO County wants that badly to use a dangerous trail on my property, then they can pay it.”
Dan Carl, the deputy director of the commission’s Central Coast District Office, told New Times that his office is still hoping for compliance from McCarthy, but had yet to hear anything as of July 15.