UPDATE (5:40 p.m.) – After about seven hours of public comment, the California Coastal Commission decided not to make any immediate changes to the rules for off-road vehicle use at the Oceano Dunes.
The Commission instead decided to allow Public Works to develop a new plan and return in a year with a set of permanent guidelines.
UPDATE (4:06 p.m.) – California State Parks is urging the Coastal Commission not to adopt recommendations that would limit off-road use at the Oceano Dunes. Instead, Parks officials are asking that Public Works be allowed to come up with its own, less restrictive plan.
California Coastal Commission staff is recommending potential closures and new restrictions at the dunes because of concerns over environmental damage and air quality impacts.
“While these communities’ air should benefit from cool coastal breezes. Instead, on some days, they have the worst air quality in the country,” stated Kevin Kahn, Coastal Commission Central Coast District Manager.
To improve air quality, the Commission could reduce the current off-road riding area by a third.
But San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Lynn Compton voiced concern about the impacts of restrictions at the dunes on the local economy. According to Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, that’s an impact of more than $150 million each year.
“I truly believe recreating at the dunes and healthy living in this area are not mutually exclusive,” Compton said.
“Thousands of local businesses rely on that tourist attraction,” added Nipomo resident Tyler Henry. “So I believe they should keep it open, if anything, expand it.”
Supporters of the restrictions say the dunes will still have plenty to offer tourists.
“It doesn’t have to be in a vehicle driving 50 miles per hour on what is not just a beautiful recreation area but essential habitat,” said San Luis Obispo resident Elizabeth Scott-Graham.
The Coastal Commission does not have to make a final decision today.
UPDATE (1 p.m.) – The list is long for speakers still waiting to give their opinion at the California Coastal Commission meeting on the future of off-road riding at the Ocean Dunes.
After nearly 2 hrs of comment on Oceano Dunes access, Coastal Commission says there are 20 more groups and at least 50 individuals to speak throughout the afternoon meeting. Commission does not have to make a decision today.
— Aja Goare (@ajagoare) July 11, 2019
Mayor Heidi Harmon and representatives from the Chumash tribe spoke out in favor of adopting the 15 staff recommendations to limit OVR use on the Oceano Dunes. Both arguing it causes harm to the environment and the health of residents.
“One has to wonder why that permit continues to exist,” Harmon said.
The California State Parks director implored the commission not to adopt the recommendations stating public works needs more time to sort out the issue and deliver change by summer of 2020.
When staff reported the Nipomo area has the worst air quality in the US on some days due to OVR use, there were verbal jeers from some in the audience.
UPDATE (10:45 a.m.) – Hundreds of people have turned out for Thursday’s meeting. There are at least two packed spillover rooms.
With the meeting now underway, the crowd has jeered at comments made by California Coastal Commissioners that reflect negatively on OVR use.
The commission has said it has the option Thursday to adopt changes or postpone the decision until public works can consider the matter further, which is what State Parks is recommending.
— Aja Goare (@ajagoare) July 11, 2019
Today’s Coastal Commission hearing on the environmental impacts at he Oceano Dunes has drawn hundreds of people who wish to comment on the issue. We are here at the meeting at Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo.
Posted by KSBY on Thursday, July 11, 2019
(9 a.m.) – Crowds were gathering outside Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo Thursday morning ahead of the California Coastal Commission meeting where off-road riding at the Oceano Dunes will take center stage.
Many of those lined up outside, ahead of the 9 a.m. meeting, were wearing blue. Their slogan – “Families fighting to keep the dunes open with access to all.” Others we wearing badges saying “Support clean air.”
The line of people waiting to get inside wrapped around the building. Others were already inside, filling hallways and signing up to speak at the meeting. The issue is not expected to be heard until closer to 11 a.m.
Off-road riding is a major attraction at the dunes but whether it should continue has spurred 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.
In addition to those concerns, safety is a hot button topic as each year there are injuries and deaths at the dunes by those on off-road vehicles. Four people have died in crashes at the dunes so far in 2019. A teenager was injured this week in a crash.
A recent 65-page staff report concluded something needs to change.
“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,” according to the documents.
To read the full report, click here .
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.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department sent out a tweet Wednesday about potential traffic delays near the hotel around the time of the meeting.
Last week, Central Coast Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham waded into the issue. He encouraged the California Coastal Commission to reject further limiting off-road vehicle access to the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
“The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area itself generates more than $150 million in annual economic activity from outside visitors,” Cunningham said in a letter addressed to the Commission. “It is a major contributor to South San Luis Obispo County’s tourism industry. Hundreds of businesses rely upon these visitors to generate revenue and employ local residents.”
The item is number 12 on Thursday’s agenda .
KSBY is at the meeting and will have updates throughout the day on KSBY.com and KSBY News at 5 and 6 p.m.