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California State Parks proposing changes at Oceano Dunes

Posted at 7:52 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 21:23:01-05

California State Parks released a far-reaching proposal about the future of the Oceano Dunes, and it will likely change how visitors enjoy the popular site.

The proposal, called the Public Works Plan and Environmental Impact Report for Oceano Dunes, also known as the PWP, was first submitted in 2018, and then published for public comment in December 2020. It has not received approval yet but will be presented to the California Coastal Commission.

The PWP proposes the development of the Oso Flaco Lake Area and the Phillips 66 Refinery site once it shuts down in 2023. The Refinery site would be about 1,800 acres and would supplement the 3,500 acres already within the site. KSBY reached out to Phillips 66, and they told us they were "aware of the conceptual plan" but declined to comment.

Recreational developments would include more space for parking, an environmental education center, more campsites, cabins, and space for equestrians.

The proposal has been a flash-point across San Luis Obispo County, with both environmental and recreational advocates expressing concern about the plan. Environmental advocates worry about the impact of the expansion and site modifications on the ecosystem. Those concerned with recreational changes are worried about the effect the limitations and narrowing accessibility will have on local businesses and tourists.

The plan limits many recreational activities, including camping and the use of off-road vehicles, like ATVs.

The Planning Chief for California State Parks, Alexandra Stehl said, “the PWP is a balancing act. We’re trying to balance between the conservation of the land, the Coastal Act, as well as the public demand for quality recreation.”

When asked about changes regarding recreation, Stehl discussed how COVID-19 and the lack of a recent carrying capacity report contributed to the proposed decrease in recreational activities.

“It was decided to reduce the daily use limits for OHV (off-highway vehicle) activity. The plan actually proposes reducing those daily use limits temporarily until a more recent carry capacity study could be completed. The last one was completed in the year 2005, so it’s about 15 years old or so. We would like to do another one so the use limits we are observing aren’t causing any impacts to the environment.”

The dunes are a popular recreational and tourist area, where visitors frequently bring vehicles like ATVs, or rent them from nearby businesses. The Public Works Plan would limit the amount allowed per day and limit the number of rental vehicles allowed on the site.

Daily use limits:

  • Camping 1,000 (existing) /500 (proposed)
  • Street legal 2,580 (existing) /1,000 (proposed)
  • OHV 1,720 (existing) /1,000 (proposed)

“All three of these are temporary until a recent carrying capacity limit can be completed," Stehl said. "We’d like to implement that study as soon as possible once the PWP is approved by the [California] Coastal Commission.”

The State Parks is expected to present to the Coastal Commission on March 18, but the public still has a chance to share opinions and concerns on the proposal before then. Currently, the State Parks is holding a “public comment period” until March 2, with an opportunity for an extension up until the hearing.

Stehl said, “[the March 18th hearing] would be us presenting the draft to the California Coastal Commission in order to receive any comments. Once we receive those comments we would go back and make any appropriate adjustments to the plan or the environmental impact report and then it would go back in front of the commission for action, probably in early summer at one of their meetings in June or July. And that’s when they would take action on whether or not they’d certify the PWB.”

Members of the public can view the proposal on the State Parks website, and can submit comments to State Parks through March 2, 2021 by 5 p.m. via emailor mail.

The mailing address is:

Strategic Planning and Recreation Services Division

1725 23rd Street

Suite 200

Sacramento, California


Correction: 2/19/2021
Alexandra Stehl initially told us that the street-legal vehicle limit was "around 2,720" but her team reached out and informed us that the real number is 2,580.