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What's next for the Oceano Dunes? Two nonprofits plan for very different futures

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Posted at 3:46 PM, Apr 02, 2021

It's been a little more than two weeks since the California Coastal Commission voted to phase out off-highway vehicles (OHV) at the Oceano Dunes within the next three years.

A couple of nonprofit groups are now looking at what comes next.

One nonprofit we talked with is gearing up for a legal battle while another is taking a closer look at how the community could benefit from the decision.

Jim Suty, CEO and President of Friends of Oceano Dunes, says there's a long battle ahead following the Coastal Commission's looming changes to the dunes.

"We're prepared to do what is needed to protect this beautiful park," Suty said in an interview with KSBY News on Friday.

He says they're in the process of filing four lawsuits to reverse the Coastal Commission's decision last month to end OHV use by 2024.

Formed 20 years ago, the nonprofit has won lawsuits in the past against the Coastal Commission, State Parks, and the Air Pollution Control District, among others.

"We have stopped the dunes from being closed on several different occasions and we will continue to work to do that," Suty said.

Meanwhile, another nonprofit, the Oceano Economic Development Council, is looking forward to the changes on the horizon.

"July 1st of 2022, Pier Avenue will be shut down," said Charles Varni, Co-Founder of the Oceano Economic Development Council. "We are positioning ourselves to have some community meetings on what kinds of things people would like to see in that reconstruction down there."

His nonprofit was founded just this February but the group of locals has been meeting for several years.

"To support and create and plan for equitable economic development in Oceano," Varni explained.

The council is working closely with Cal Poly's Departments of Business and City and Regional Planning on some conceptual plans for Pier Avenue and redevelopments of airport land and Oceano's Front St. area.

Varni says the Coastal Commission's decision to have a vehicle-free beach south of Pier Avenue will allow Oceano to thrive as a destination site for tourists, generating more businesses and jobs.

"There will be a transition to this new sort of economic basis but we've seen that happen right next door with Pismo Beach where 30 years ago, they decided not to have vehicles on the beach anymore," Varni said.

But Suty says this form of recreation has been going on for more than 100 years and it's a tradition.

"Many families, generations have been doing this," Varni said. "It's personal to a lot of people. I know people who have spread the ashes of their loved ones out here."

Friends of Oceano Dunes add that they're expecting the lawsuits to take three to five years and that it could end up in the Supreme Court.

"We're in it to win it and we're going to keep fighting until our last breath or the last dime spent," Suty said.

For more information about Friends of Oceano Dunes and its legal efforts, click here.

For more information on how to get involved with the Oceano Economic Development Council, email charles@varni.org.