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County dunes land should be sold, staff says 

San Luis Obispo County should sell, rather than lease, its dunes land in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, a staff report recommends.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to make a decision on the state's $4.8 million purchase offer for 584 acres at its meeting April 17, after weeks of town-hall and task force meetings on the issue.

"The Department of General Services recommends that the Board of Supervisors approve the sale," states a staff report prepared for the upcoming meeting. The report points out that the revenue "could fund some large projects" or could be invested to yield around $228,000 a year.

No recommendation is made about the use of sale proceeds, a decision left "to the sole discretion of the board after receiving input from the public."

A 25-year lease with the state is due to expire in June 2008, a timeline which has led to discussions about future use of the county-owned property. Off-roading enthusiasts have argued in favor of continued access, while some local residents have called for the dunes to be closed to vehicle recreation.

An 18-member task force convened by Supervisor Katcho Achadjian has also discussed the idea of a new lease, which would provide a regular stream of income. Members have talked about a lease condition to require development of an alternative access to the heavily used off-road riding area, rather than Grand Avenue in Grover Beach and Pier Avenue in Oceano, where "issues include traffic, sand nuisance, conflict between cars and pedestrians on the beach, and environmental concerns for Arroyo Grande Creek," according to the staff report.

But a requirement for alternative access as a condition of a new lease would not be approved by the state Department of Parks and Recreation, because it cannot control the Coastal Commission's decisions on the issue, says the report. The state would also not agree with a $1 per vehicle charge as requested by the Oceano Community Services District.

The value of a lease would be reduced because of the costs of habitat protection, fence maintenance, trash removal, law enforcement, and legal defense that State Parks would incur, county supervisors were told.

The county's land consists of 4,399 sandy lots in the heart of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, the result of a 1905 dunes paper-subdivision that never materialized into a housing development. More than 50 lots out of the original 6,000-lot tract are currently in private ownership, which complicates any plan to fence off the land, county officials say.

"Even if the county wished to see an end to off-roading in the dunes, there is no practical way for the county to prevent off-roaders from using county land," the report states.

County supervisors are also due to make a decision about whether the proposed sale is in conformity with the adopted General Plan, which includes a map labeling the land as "buffer area." The county Planning Commission ruled in February that the sale does not conform to the plan because the land will be used for off-roading, not "buffer" purposes.

Off-roaders have appealed the Planning Commission's decision to the Board of Supervisors.

According to the staff report, the dunes sale could still proceed even if it does not conform to the General Plan.

Kathy Johnston

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