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SLO County makes private rural camping and RV parking top priorities 

click to enlarge NEW AGRI-TOURISM San Luis Obispo County is trying to get its arms around a fledging sector of its tourism industry: private campgrounds on local ranches, farms, and wineries. - FILE PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • NEW AGRI-TOURISM San Luis Obispo County is trying to get its arms around a fledging sector of its tourism industry: private campgrounds on local ranches, farms, and wineries.

San Luis Obispo County planning officials say that not one county in California has passed an ordinance to address the rise in private rural campgrounds and overnight parking sites popularized by apps like Hipcamp and Harvest Host.

But on Oct. 4, the SLO County Board of Supervisors gave its staff direction to do just that—and to do it soon.

"I do think the time has come to move forward on the rural camping initiative," 1st District Supervisor John Peschong said during a discussion about the priorities for the Planning and Building Department.

SLO County supervisors said they feel urgency to develop the regulations due to the growing interest among local landowners and the conflicts arising from the county's "outdated" guidelines.

Hipcamp, a platform similar to Airbnb, enables rural property owners to advertise and book visitors who want to camp, park, or otherwise stay overnight on their land. Harvest Host is similar in nature but focuses on RV stays. Both are growing in popularity across the county.

"The trend is here," 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold said. "It would be timely to update our rural camping ordinance to include these new concepts."

The discussion came to the fore on Oct. 4 after county officials had downgraded the rural camping ordinance to a "Tier II" priority during the board's annual update on planning priorities.

County staff previously warned that elevating it to a Tier I priority would come with a request for significantly more resources at a time when the Planning and Building Department is struggling with vacancies and high turnover.

But Peschong emphasized that the issue is too important to put off. He asked staff to bring back a work plan in December for getting the ordinance financed and completed.

"I know this is going to tax the system," Peschong said, "[but] it's important to the community that I represent. It's important to the families who've been using this to supplement the income on their property. I think it can be done safely."

The Tier I planning projects that county staff brought forward on Oct. 4 included accessory dwelling unit and farmworker housing policies, the Dana Reserve housing project, and the completion of the Los Osos Habitat Conservation Plan and various community plans.

"I would recommend that the Planning Department decide—if there is an exorbitant cost to the camping ordinance—which [other Tier I] programs they put on hiatus," Peschong said.

Ahead of the meeting, stakeholders across the spectrum of the rural camping debate wrote in to the county about what they'd like to see happen. Several also spoke at the meeting.

Many camp hosts argued that the current ordinance on the books is overly restrictive and onerous, and has led to bitter and expensive battles between property owners and county code enforcement. Neighbors, on the other side, complain that Hipcamps are often incompatible with neighborhoods and detrimental to their safety and quality of life.

Dan Penkauskas, a Creston resident, urged the supervisors not to relax the standards for private camping. He said he and his neighbors are having issues with a Hipcamp that's just 30 feet from a property line.

"He's got five large Airstream trailers. They're all in code violation right now," Penkauskas said. "We'd like to see the existing setbacks, the existing density, because these are the sort of things that protect our existing communities today."

Megan Judge, a Los Osos farm owner and Hipcamp host, countered by asking the supervisors for more reasonable regulations for private camping. She argued that Hipcamps bring much-needed supplemental income to local families and fit in well with SLO County's agri-tourism focus.

"Farming and community are at the heart of Hipcamp," Judge said, "allowing non-rural and urban visitors to make a connection to the farmers and ranchers and helping them support raising their families and giving back to the community."

Differentiating between Hipcamp and Harvest Host, the supervisors said that a Harvest Host-specific ordinance could be crafted without much hassle. Harvest Host specializes in free overnight RV parking within a venue like a winery.

"I think the Harvest Host issue can be resolved very quickly and very simply," 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said, "if we're talking about one self-contained RV, parking for one night, with no charge and no hook-ups."

But Gibson and others noted that the camping ordinance would be more involved, as it raises sensitive issues around fire safety and community compatibility.

"As we heard," Gibson said, "the various issues that surround that are going to be substantial." Δ

Readers Poll

Do you think the SLO County Board of Supervisors should have gone against their policy that states funding for independent special districts should not result in a net fiscal loss to the county?

  • A. Yes, the housing and job opportunity the Dana Reserve is bringing is important
  • B. No, it's giving special privileges to the Nipomo Community Services District
  • C. I trust them, they know what's best for the county
  • D. What's going on?

View Results


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