Though it has lain dormant for the past few months, the land-use skirmish on Ontario Ridge between local hikers and property owner Rob McCarthy recently kicked into gear again.
On May 7, several local hikers told New Times that workers were busy installing new chain-link fence, barbed-wire fence, and “no admittance” signs on the ridge.
Local attorney, activist, and hiker Tarren Collins shared photographs with New Times of three newly installed signs that read “No admittance: Right to pass by permission and subject to control of owner.”
In addition, Collins said there are several new sections of chain-link fence and barbed wire either blocking off or deterring public access to the hiking trail on the ridge.
McCarthy owns a parcel of land on Ontario Ridge, and a segment of the hiking trail traverses his property.
McCarthy had installed signs and fences blocking access to the trail starting in November of 2013, but the California Coastal Commission ordered him to remove all the signs and fences on Feb. 7 of this year.
The commission cited McCarthy’s lack of permits as well as a documented 2009 public access easement to the trail, granted for hiking and a wide variety of outdoor activities.
McCarthy subsequently removed some of the signs and opened the gates to some of the fence segments, but didn’t remove all of the unpermitted development, as he was ordered to do.
“We know that Mr. McCarthy has not been in full compliance, and we are pursuing standard enforcement remedies,” said Heather Johnston, the Coastal Commission’s local enforcement supervisor.
Johnston said this is a “high priority matter” for the commission since it concerns public access. She said that negotiation and voluntary compliance measures are preferable, but added that the commission can enact notices of violation, cease and desist orders, and/or forcible removal of unpermitted development with a commission vote.
When reached for comment by New Times, a defiant McCarthy admitted that he had ordered the installation of the new fences and signs.
“They don’t have a legal right to force me to take the fences and signs down—until the commission has a vote on the action, there’s no power to it,” McCarthy said. “I say that I’m perfectly compliant.
“I had some vandalism on my property with the fences, and so I repaired it,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned, the easement hasn’t officially been established.”
McCarthy said that he would “probably” be suing the commission should they take an enforcement action vote, but added that he was still waiting for that official step and hasn’t heard from the commission in months.
Collins—who is an experienced environmental attorney—said that, in her opinion, McCarthy’s arguments were “ludicrous, and not based in reality.”
“Perhaps Mr. McCarthy would benefit from having lawyers who are familiar with the Coastal Act,” Collins said.