Second Oceano advisory council could favor OHV access to dunes, raises concerns about objectivity

Jun 24, 2021

A second advisory council for the unincorporated community of Oceano will meet in July after the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors voted to recognize the group on June 8. Some opponents of the decision are questioning the council’s motive and fear that this decision will set a dangerous precedent for other community advisory councils.

Earlier this month, the board voted 3-2 in favor of recognizing the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano (VACO) as a second advisory council for the community. Oceano’s district supervisor, Lynn Compton, was in the majority.

Compton said in the meeting that, while having two separate advisory councils is unprecedented, the new council can help give a voice to more community members.

“In my opinion, this would never be coming forward if other community members felt like their voices were being heard, and they don’t feel like that,” Compton said.

Community advisory councils are made up of members of a defined community who represent the general public’s overall stance on different community issues.

Now, the Oceano Advisory Council, which has been representing the Oceano community since 1996, will share their role with VACO.

Compton also addressed allegations that the new council was formed in opposition to the California Coastal Commission’s decision to phase out off-highway vehicle use at Oceano Dunes.

Compton called this a misconception that was spread based on a bulletin from non-profit People for the Dunes.

However, Oceano Dunes was mentioned by a VACO member in a June 7 letter to the Board of Supervisors. This then led to other groups pointing out the connection.

VACO member Adam Verdin wrote the letter asking the board to recognize the new council, specifically citing the potential economic impacts of phasing out vehicular access on the Dunes.

In his letter, Verdin wrote “support and implementation of an economic study is imperative to help reveal what a post-off-road community might look like.”

This issue was also mentioned in an April 18th letter signed by all VACO members formally asking to be recognized as an advisory council. In this letter, the members wrote that "the recent decisions by the California Coastal Commission which profoundly impacts Oceano, as well as other long unresolved issues, requires a responsive, locally informed voice."

A pro-vehicular access flag waves on the sand in Oceano.
Credit Sophie Lincoln / KCBX

Treasurer and at-large member of the Oceano Advisory Council April Dury said this letter made her question the new council’s motive.

Editor's note: The original article did not include the first letter that was written on April 18 formally asking the Board to recognize VACO as an advisory council. This section was added to give context to April Dury's quote referencing the letter written and signed by all the members. 

“Their only issue that they raised in that letter asking to be an advisory council was off-highway vehicle use in the dunes and the dunes being closed, which an advisory council has absolutely no jurisdiction over,” Dury said.

According to Dury, Oceano Dunes are outside the jurisdiction of San Luis Obispo County. As a state park, the Dunes are instead under the authority of California State Parks and the California Coastal Commission.

District 4 Legislative Assistant Caleb Mott wrote in an email that VACO’s bylaws do not mention the Oceano Dunes issue as a mission, and that the council did not mention the issue when meeting with Mott and Compton.

While VACO’s bylaws do not specifically name Oceano Dunes as a purpose of the council, the document does include that the council will advise in matters pertaining to development, including land uses.

Whether or not these land uses might include the Dunes is currently unclear.

Dury said, besides VACO’s objectives, there are other concerns about having two separate advisory councils. She said it’s redundant and a waste of taxpayer dollars. She also said the new council sets a dangerous precedent for future advisory councils.

“My concern here is that if a supervisor decides that an advisory council doesn’t conform to their political ideology, that a secondary council can be created that is in conformity to their political ideology,” Dury said. “And that’s not the role of an advisory council. We are not red or blue or elephants or donkeys.”

This concern is shared by District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who was one of the two votes not in favor of recognizing VACO on June 8.

Gibson also told KCBX News that the selection process for advisory board members is the root of the problem.

Currently, for both the Oceano Advisory Council and VACO, members are elected by a majority of votes from a quorum of existing members.

“Eventually, folks bring forward the idea that this council should represent the community as a whole,” Gibson said. “And so, the natural path is to change that structure so that the community elects the people that are on the advisory council.”

According to Gibson, at least one member of the Oceano Advisory Council has expressed interest in changing the structure so that they are an all-elected advisory council.

It is currently unclear how the two advisory councils will work together to discuss issues, as they will meet separately, according to their respective bylaws and schedules.

District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton and VACO founding member Linda Austin both did not respond to requests for comment.