Coastal Commission eyeing banning vehicles from Oceano Dunes

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The California Coastal Commission is considering settling the decades-long dispute over usage of the Oceano Dunes by the outright banning off-road vehicle riding on the South County beach.

On July 11, the Coastal Commission plans to discuss staff’s proposal at a meeting in San Luis Obispo. Coastal Commission staff has determined off-highway vehicle (OHV) use at the Oceano Dunes is untenable in the long-term, and the state park must transition to usages that are less intensive, according to a recently released report.

“The bottom line in staff’s view is that the park and coastal development permit cannot continue to operate as it has in the past,” the report says. “Put simply, in staff’s view a park that is fully consistent with on-the-ground realities, and with coastal resource protection requirements, does not include OHV use.”

The report cites a variety of environmental, as well as “tribal concerns,” as justification for removing vehicles from the beach.

In the short-term, there could be immediate reductions in the amount of off-road vehicle use and camping at the Oceano Dunes. Coastal Commission staff is recommending commissioners amend the Oceano Dunes operating permit to ban night riding, fence off more area, reduce the amount of RVs by 30 percent and implement other measures aimed at eventually eliminating off-road vehicle traffic on the dunes.

The Coastal Commission staff is supportive of continuing to allow reduced street-legal vehicle camping on a portion of the dunes.

“Street-legal vehicle camping on a limited portion of the beach may be able to provide a unique, lower-cost, overnight coastal camping opportunity that ties into the history of the park and continues its rich camping tradition, but with a significantly reduced impact on sensitive coastal resources and surrounding communities,” the report says.

Friends of Oceano Dunes, which has battled in and out of court to keep the park accessible to off-road vehicles, is vowing to fight the Coastal Commission’s plan.

“The Coastal Commission is about to ruin your holidays at the Oceano Dunes. Summer vacations will be taking a big hit too!” Friends of Oceano Dunes stated in a Facebook post.

In a video accompanying the Facebook post, Friends of Oceano Dunes President Jim Suty called on members of the organization to attend the July 11 meeting and speak out against the move toward banning vehicles from the park.

“It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and fight,”  Suty said. “It’s death by a thousand fence posts, and we’re going to lose the park over time unless something drastically changes.”

In addition, business stakeholders formed a group to address the economic impact of the Coastal Commission’s plan and to advocate for continued use of the off-road vehicle park, according to a statement from the South County Chambers of Commerce.

An economic impact report completed last year by a consulting firm found that, between July 2016 and Sept. 2017, the Oceano Dunes park area generated a total of $243 million for the San Luis Obispo County economy. The study, conducted by South Lake Tahoe-based SMG Consulting, found most visitors to the Oceano Dunes area travel from outside of SLO County. These visitors spent an estimated $158 million directly on travel expenditures, with the visits generating a total of 3,300 jobs.

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