Oceano Dunes on California’s central coast will remain open to off-road vehicles for at least another year.
After several hours of often emotional testimony, the California Coastal Commission voted to reject staff recommendations to phase out off-roading at the state recreational area.
Instead, commissioners gave the California Department of Parks and Recreation a year to come up with a management plan for Oceano Dunes, and to provide quarterly updates of the plan’s progress.
The staff recommendation was due to concerns about destruction of habitat for endangered species and effects to downwind communities, where air quality is a danger to public health. The commission voted 8-2 to reject a plan to begin phasing out off-roader use.
Only Oceanfront Park That Allows Vehicles on Sand
Hundreds of people turned out for the public comment portion of the commission’s meeting in San Luis Obispo.
Off-roaders say they have as much of a right to recreate on public lands as anyone else.
Oceano Dunes, which draws roughly 2 million visitors a year, is the only oceanfront state park that allows vehicles on its sand.
The commission’s decision to push the Oceano Dunes issue down the road for at least another year did little to clear up a decades-long battle that defines the California coast — protecting the environment vs. open access to public recreation.
Commissioner Steve Padilla acknowledged the commission was “kicking the can down the road.”
‘We Need to Strike a Balance’
Thursday’s meeting was the latest public display of a decades-long political clash that began when the state parks department took over management of the land and the Coastal Commission issued a permit, the conditions of which have never been met, commission staff said.
Lisa Mangat, state parks director, essentially agreed with the commission’s decision to step back and order a management plan.
“State Parks commits to protect some of our most precious resources while still striving to provide world-class recreation opportunities,” Mangat said. “We need to strike a balance.”
Those opposed to closing the dunes to recreational use spoke about the desire to maintain access to land, and to continue family traditions.
Concerns About Public Access, Air Quality
Mark Leister, who brings his entire family to the dunes, said it is the only beach his father-in-law, a disabled veteran, can access easily.
“My father-in-law is missing half a leg. If it wasn’t for OHV at the dunes, he would never get to the beach because accessibility,” Leister said.
Those who support immediate phasing out of off-road use spoke about air quality and the effect on wildlife.
One Nipomo Mesa resident told people at the meeting to imagine living on the Central Coast but being forced to stay inside one out of every days because of health concerns. That’s how often Nipomo Mesa violated state air quality standards in 2017.