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Friday, February 19, 2021

Coastal Commission staff recommend elimination of Oceano Dunes off-roading by 2026

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2021 at 3:32 PM

Off-roading could be eliminated entirely in the Oceano Dunes by Jan. 1, 2026, if the California Coastal Commission votes to approve staff recommendations outlined in a report released on Feb. 18.

In the report, which will be discussed further at a hearing on March 18, Coastal Commission staff detail their proposals for the future of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA), including recommendations to strengthen sensitive habitat conservation efforts while eliminating off-roading and most street-legal vehicle access in the park by 2026.

click to enlarge READY TO RIDE Trucks line up outside the entry to the Oceano Dunes SVRA on Oct. 30, 2020, the first day in seven months that vehicles were allowed in the park. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • READY TO RIDE Trucks line up outside the entry to the Oceano Dunes SVRA on Oct. 30, 2020, the first day in seven months that vehicles were allowed in the park.
“The California Coastal Commission retains the ability to make changes to park operations through periodic review of its [coastal development permit] that temporarily authorized uses and intensities of use at the park in the 1980s,” the staff report reads, “and found most recently in 2019 that driving at the park has degraded dune habitats, harmed native species, caused air quality, and public health issues, and made it difficult for the public to walk, swim, and enjoy other non-vehicular activities at the beach and dunes.”

If passed, off-roading and most street-legal vehicle access in the SVRA would be phased out over the course of five years, a process that staff say could start as early as March 19 of this year. Only State Parks and emergency vehicles would be allowed on the beach as of 2026, except between West Grand and Pier avenues, where drive-up beach camping would continue indefinitely. After 2026, up to 500 street-legal vehicles will be allowed in the park each day in addition to those using the park’s 500 campsites. Any car staying overnight counts as one campsite. Currently there are 500 campsites in the park and 1,000 additional vehicles allowed in each day.

Nighttime vehicular activity would be prohibited, as would crossing the flowing Arroyo Grande Creek.

Coastal Commission staff also recommend closing the Pier Avenue vehicular entrance to the beach by July 1 of this year, restoring the area to a natural shoreline edge with biking, pedestrian, and equestrian access and the “typical beach area public access amenities.” A 300-acre breeding area for snowy plovers that is currently off limits to vehicles and visitors seasonally would be closed off permanently and other protective measures would be implemented.

“Although some park users will interpret the staff recommendation to mean that the park is being ‘closed,’” the staff report reads, “the park would very much be open as the recommendation is to eliminate [off-highway vehicle] use but also to allow other types of lower impact uses at the park, and ultimately to allow an opportunity for a new and reimagined park that is open to a variety of less intensive uses.”

The recommendations from Coastal Commission staff are in stark contrast to a draft public works plan released by State Parks in December 2020, which largely outlines State Parks’ intent to further develop portions of the Oceano Dunes SVRA and increase off-roading and camping activities in some areas. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash
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