By Keli Moore
For decades, environmentalists have fought to protect the ecosystem of the Central Coast’s sand dunes and put an end to the use of off-road vehicles at the Oceano Dunes Vehicular Recreation Area or ODVRA.
The California Coastal Commission is set to vote next month on the issue.
It’s mixed emotions from protecting the environment to protecting the economy. Driving on these dunes is why many choose to visit the Central Coast and this translates into revenue, but having hundreds of thousands of people drive on these beaches can take a toll on the environment.
“This is my third time here,” said Mohammed Qreini, who visits the Central Coast to camp and drive on the dunes. “We have no chance to get together and enjoy a weekend or three days together. This is a really good chance.”
Come July 11, choosing to come to the dunes might look a little different.
The current coastal permit allows for 1,000 RV campers per night, but the Coastal Commission wants to cut this number by 30 percent, which means 300 fewer RVs parked on the dunes every night.
“What’s behind this amazing new staff report (from the California Coastal Commission) is that it is saying it is time to look at the future of no off-highway vehicle activity on the Oceano Dunes. There has been 30 years of problems,” said Andrew Christie, San Luis Obispo Sierra Club Director.
In 2018, the Coastal Commission closed 150 acres of the dunes to mitigate dust pollution for those who live on the Nipomo Mesa and to protect the endangered western snowy plover as this is where they nest.
As of June 2019, there were 1,100 acres open to the public, according to California State Parks. If the plan gets approved, in total, 450 acres would be closed to the public.
Area business owners worry if that happens, fewer people will come to the area.
“Every summertime people come to the dunes to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July. And the fact that it could be closed or that less people will be coming, means that my business and all of the surrounding businesses in the Five Cities will be affected by this tremendously,” said Carrie Vanzandt, co-owner of Surfside Donuts and Coffee.
According to the Oceano Dunes District Economic Impact Report, park visitors brought in $158 million to the area from 2016 to 2017.
The South County Chamber of Commerce wrote in an email to KSBY News Tuesday, “The closure or continued reduction of the Off-Highway Vehicle riding area at the Oceano Dunes State Park would be extremely detrimental to the local business community. Many small businesses in South County could not continue without the tourism dollars generated by the OHV riders. The businesses that do not directly serve tourists still benefit from ancillary spending. It is estimated that 3,300 jobs were generated as a result of travel spending related to Oceano Dunes State Park and Pismo State Beach.”
“We do need to conserve our natural resources. I know the snowy plover is a big thing and we need to keep them alive, but we also need to keep us alive,” Vanzandt said.
In the 65-page staff report, the CCC states, “The bottom line in staff’s view is that the Park and the CDP cannot continue to operate as it has in the past, and that the range of coastal resource issues and constraints affecting ODSVRA together suggest that it is time to start thinking about ways to transition the Park away from high-intensity OHV use to other less intensive forms of public access and recreation.”
The California Coastal Commission will vote on July 11 during a public hearing. The meeting is being held at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo.
To read the full report, click here.