Coastal Commission to discuss Ontario Ridge hiking trail fences next week

Barbed-wire fences were put up in a popular hiking area on Ontario Ridge above Avila Beach earlier this year.
Barbed-wire fences were put up in a popular hiking area on Ontario Ridge above Avila Beach earlier this year. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

A long-simmering dispute between hikers and a property owner over fences and signs atop Ontario Ridge will come to a head July 11 when the state Coastal Commission will consider ordering their removal.

At its monthly meeting in Ventura, the commission will consider issuing a notice of violation and a cease-and-desist order to Robert and Judith McCarthy of Bakersfield over their installation of fencing, gates and signs on a 37-acre parcel on Ontario Ridge that overlooks Pirate’s Cove in Avila Beach.

Late last year, the McCarthys began installing the fences and gates that restrict hiking along the Ontario Ridge Trail as well as views of the ocean and wildlife migration. The installations caused an outpouring of complaints to the Coastal Commission from members of the public who have told the commission they have been hiking on the ridge since the 1960s.

Commission staff considers the fences and gates to be an unpermitted development and have asked the McCarthys to remove them, but they have refused. The couple also has said that some of the gates have remained unlocked and the public still has some access to the property.

“The persistence of the unpermitted development on the (McCarthy) property is of particular concern from a coastal resource perspective as the development is egregious in both its breadth and severity of impact to both wildlife and the public,” the commission staff report said.

The two insist the barriers are needed to protect themselves from liability because hikers have reportedly fallen and been injured on a particularly steep part of the trail that leads from Pirate’s Cove to the top of the ridge. In correspondence with the commission, the couple rejected an offer to settle the matter by removing the fences and paying a $200,000 fine.

“Thus, the fencing and signs not only protect the McCarthys, but are necessary to protect the public,” Gregory Sanders, attorney for the McCarthys, wrote in a letter to the commission.

Commission staff rejects this argument, saying all trails pose some risk and it is “up to the individual to decide whether or not to continue to hike a trail.”

The fences and gates are not the first run-in the McCarthys have had with the Coastal Commission. In January 2013, the commission rejected a request by the McCarthys to build a home on the same parcel.

The couple sued the commission in March 2013 over the denial.

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