California State Parks operates the nearly 5,000-acre Oceano Dunes State Park in San Luis Obispo County. It is the only State Park in California where vehicles (including off highway vehicles, or OHVs) are allowed on the beach and dunes. The Coastal Commission retains the ability to make changes to Park operations through periodic review of its CDP that temporarily authorized uses and intensities of use at the Park in the 1980s, and found most recently in 2019 that driving at the Park has degraded dune habitats, harmed native species, caused air quality and public health issues, and made it difficult for the public to walk, swim and enjoy other non-vehicular activities at the beach and dunes. The issues directly conflict with the Coastal Act’s policies on environmental and tribal justice, public access, sensitive habitat protections. The staff recommendation includes a ban on OHV use at the park, with a five-year transition and a new vehicular beach camping area between West Grand and Pier Avenues, including for ADA vehicle access as well as an allowance for low-key interpretive hike in or bike in camping in the southern portion of the park. The staff recommendation was approved unanimously. Commissioners also amended the staff recommendation during deliberations and reduced the transition period from 5 to 3 years in a 6-4 vote.
Why You Should Care
For decades California State Parks has failed to enforce its own rules and regulations at Oceano Dunes, and the community and creatures have been paying the price: the area has some of the worst air quality in the nation and dune buggies regularly crush snowy plovers under their tires while tearing up the dunes. Additionally, the people who live in Oceano have been unable to enjoy the sort of restorative recreational experience most of us take for granted in California due to their beach being, in essence, a highway.The 2020 closure of the ODSVRA due to COVID-19 provided a window into what Oceano Dunes might look like without OHVs. Low-impact recreation thrived, natural dunes formed, beached marine mammals were protected and snowy plovers expanded their breeding grounds. People from all walks of life were able to enjoy the beach in its natural state.
After this historic decision, Oceano Dunes can now permanently become the environmental gem that’s been hidden beneath tire tracks for all these years.
Negative Conservation Vote
The special hearing lasted more than 11 hours and included five hours of public comment from off-roaders, recreationalists, environmentalists and community members. Environmental groups, along with the Northern Chumash tribe and area residents, argued for compliance with the Coastal Act, the protection of nature and the transition of the beach to a place that is welcoming for all people. Many advocates for OHV recreation argued the historic and cultural significance of OHV use at Oceano Dunes, citing cultural and family traditions of OHV riding along the coastal area for multiple generations. However, as residents, environmental groups and other OHV opponents testified, in an area with protected natural resources and environmentally sensitive habitat areas where many endangered species live, the practice is immensely destructive. Ultimately, Coastal Commissioners based their decision on their obligation to uphold the California Coastal Act, noting the impossibility of legally allowing OHV use over environmentally sensitive habitat.
Coastal Development Permit Review
Approve CDP Amendments