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Status quo unsustainable at Oceano Dunes, says Coastal Commission staff

Courtesy of the Friends of Oceano Dunes
An aerial view of campers and riders at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Off-highway vehicle riding across the sand dunes and beach at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area on the Central Coast may soon be curtailed. The California Coastal Commission is slated to take a hard look at park operations in July.

According to Coastal Commission staff, the status quo is “clearly not sustainable” and the off-highway vehicle—or OHV—park can no longer keep operating as it has in the past. And that’s it high time for some pretty major changes due to a slew of ongoing issues like damage to endangered habitat and species, environmental justice and air quality.

Recent fatal accidents on the dunes have also increased scrutiny of the park’s uses. On Thursday, a 34-year-old Brentwood man was killed in a collision between his ATV and another recreational off-road vehicle, and the other driver was arrested on DUI charges. It’s the fourth fatal accident at the park this year.

“All these kind of issues that are surrounding the particular use there—which is different than most uses at state parks in California's coastal zone—that OHV use, that’s a very intensive usage,” said Dan Carl, Central Coast District Director for the California Coastal Commission.

In 1982, when San Luis Obispo County was eyeing shutting down off-road vehicle riding at Oceano Dunes entirely, the California Coastal Commission issued California State Parks a temporary permit that outlined basic operational parameters for off-roading use. But ever since, there’s been on-going conflict between park users and area residents. And for years, Coastal Commission staff say, the commission has been trying to get State Parks to resolve problems at the park to no avail.

“Over the course of the last couple of years, these issues are just becoming more pressing in our view,” Carl told KCBX News in a phone interview Wednesday.

On July 11, the Coastal Commission will hold a public hearing in San Luis Obispo to examine next steps for Oceano Dunes. Carl said one recommendation is to keep on-the-beach car camping, but to direct State Parks to phase out Oceano Dunes’ foremost use.

“This is our staff recommendation, that the commission ought to tell [State Parks] that they need to transition away from OHV use to some less intensive form of recreation there,” Carl said.

In response, California State Parks spokesperson Jorge Moreno said the agency is “thoughtfully reviewing” the Coastal Commission staff’s report before it will comment, and that State Parks looks forward to discussing the report at the July 11 Coastal Commission meeting.

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