Fences removed from Ontario Ridge hiking trails

dsneed@thetribunenews.comFebruary 26, 2014 

Owners of a parcel atop Ontario Ridge above Avila Beach say they have removed fences and signs that block access to popular hiking trails on county land.

The county has an easement on the property to allow access to the trails.

In a letter dated Feb. 20, California Coastal Commission code enforcement staff told Robert and Judith McCarthy of Bakersfield that they had until March 10 to remove the fences and gates. Dave Watson, a local private planner who acts as a spokesman for the McCarthys, said the fences have already been removed.

“If the commission wants the path open, the path is open,” he said.

At the beginning of the year, the McCarthys installed a series of fences, gates and “No trespassing” signs across several hiking trails on Ontario Ridge. They claimed that the fences were necessary to protect themselves from liability, particularly from the public being injured on a steep section of trail that connects Ontario Ridge to Cave Landing Road.

The move outraged hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts who have used the trails for decades. The Coastal Commission determined that the fences were illegal because the McCarthys had not obtained the necessary permits to install them and ordered them removed.

“By installing the system of unpermitted fences, gates and signs across and adjacent to the trail, you have blocked the public from accessing one of the most popular trails in San Luis Obispo; one which has been used by the public for more than 40 years,” Heather Johnston, a commission enforcement supervisor, said in the letter.

Initially, the county planners determined that permits were not needed for the fences but changed their minds when it was discovered that the county has the access easement over the trails. On Feb. 7, the county sent a letter asking that the fences be removed.

“The fences and signs over the easement are down,” Watson said.

Coastal Commission staff has yet to inspect the site to determine if the fences have been removed to their satisfaction.

Watson said the McCarthy family still thinks that the fences did not need permits. The family has sued the Coastal Commission over its decision a year ago to deny their request to build a home on their Ontario Ridge property.

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