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Oceano Advisory Council wants county to reject campground project 

The Oceano Advisory Council voted to recommend against renovating the local airport's campground at a recent meeting—with one council member advocating for SLO County to close the airport altogether on account of the area being "land poor."

The almost 70-year-old Oceano Airport came under scrutiny recently because of a county-proposed campground renovation project. It split residents and leaders into two camps—one that wants to preserve a space for private and chartered flights, and another that questions the general public's accessibility to the airport.

At its May 12 meeting, the Oceano Advisory Council seemed divided, too, but a 3-2 vote recommending against campground renovation prevailed.

"We didn't vote that we don't want the renovations anymore, but that we don't want the airport anymore because we're land poor," Allene Villa, the advisory council's chair, told New Times.

The advisory council's concerns about the airport campground renovation include worries about the negative impact of artificial turf on the environment, flooding and runoff from the parking lot that doesn't have proper drainage, and that the large parking lot mostly remains unused because it's usually only active during airport community events.

"The basis for the decision is that these county-owned 60 acres which comprise the Oceano Airport and campground could be repurposed for greater benefit to the community. Oceano is a small disadvantaged community that lacks many fundamental basic needs such as sidewalks, affordable housing, adequate recreational area, businesses, etc. It also lacks large vacant lots in which to construct and accommodate these needs," the advisory council's recommendation to the county stated. "Currently, this airport serves a few privileged individuals with little economic or social benefits to the community at large. Repurposing this airport area would provide 60 acres to help construct affordable housing, businesses, and recreational areas our community needs. It is these facts that led the majority of the council to deny this project in its entirety."

Another concern that stuck out to the majority of the council is a lack of ADA-compliant facilities at the campground. On May 12, Villa toured the campground with some other advisory council members, and said she found the space to be cramped and in need of improvement.

"It does need to be updated. The bathrooms are not ADA-compliant; they look like they're 30 to 40 years old. I didn't see any ramps or bars. The parking lot needs to be redone," she said.

Advisory council member at-large April Dury echoed Villa's comments at the meeting. Dury, along with council members Villa and Charles Varni, voted to recommend against the campground renovation. Dury spoke to the handful of private pilots who attended the meeting in support of campground renovation.

"You fly places ... you get to write it off as a tax deduction. I get no benefit whatsoever from this airport," Dury said at the meeting. "You guys have a vested interest when it comes to this local airport that us community members don't get a benefit from ... Oceano's land poor, but clearly, you guys have demonstrated that we're private plane-rich."

Advisory council member Bonnie Ernst who voted in favor of campground renovation said that the proposed budget of the restoration project is $1.8 million, which some of the other council members found too expensive. Though Ernst wants the campground to be renovated, she suggested some expansions as well.

"I walk past there a lot and I just do not see the usage of it. I'm wondering if there's any way to design the fencing so that the public can come in and be a part of it, especially for bicyclists?" she said at the meeting.

Villa said she wants to see "a little bit of everything," if the airport was repurposed. She added that Oceano is in need of a recreational area, and the open space from the airport could result in a soccer field, barbecue zones, and regular campsites.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors has the final say in campground renovation, and subsequently, the future of the airport.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to pass anyway because in reality Lynn Compton, who is still our supervisor, has been a strong supporter of the airport," Villa said. "The supervisors are not supposed to be political but they are, so they're probably gonna go ahead with it."

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