We’re dodging glass, feces and ditches at Pirate’s Cove. SLO County is doing nothing about it

What people are saying about trash and nudity at Pirate’s Cove near Avila Beach

Pirate's Cove is San Luis Obispo County's only nude beach. But it isn't the nudity that people complain about most. It's the trash.
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Pirate's Cove is San Luis Obispo County's only nude beach. But it isn't the nudity that people complain about most. It's the trash.

A year after San Luis Obispo County laid out a modest plan to clean up Pirate’s Cove, the picturesque clifftop property remains as trashed as ever with little hope of progress any time soon.

The reason, county officials say, is that there’s no money for it in the parks budget after the few dollars that may have been available were rerouted elsewhere.

Pirate’s Cove could be a premiere county park, with its dramatic cliffs, an iconic cave, and a crescent clothing-optional beach that’s shielded from the often crisp ocean breeze.

Instead, many visitors to the area are turned off by a parking lot filled with dirt swells the size of ocean waves that trap cars and an eroding spider web of trails littered with broken bottles, discarded clothes and even used condoms.

It’s party central: Graffiti, theft and even sexual assault are persistent problems.

A known problem

San Luis Obispo County officials have talked about ways to develop or at least maintain the park since the county acquired the 55-acre area (also known as Cave Landing) four years ago.

Initially, the county had big plans to upgrade the area.

They called for $1.5 million worth of improvements including restrooms, upgrades to the parking lot, trail maintenance and trash cans. The California Coastal Commission approved the permit, but modified it in a way that precluded paving and night closure of the parking lot. As a result, the county scrapped the project and the grants that would have funded half the work were lost.

Last year, in response to residents’ complaints of trash and illegal activity, Supervisor Adam Hill — whose district includes Pirate’s Cove — announced that a new, smaller plan to clean up the area was in the works. The plan aimed to improve the parking lot, install garbage cans, and post set hours. At least some form of restrooms — in an area that currently has none — was also on the list.

What happened?

“Nothing,” Director of Parks and Recreation Nick Franco said in a phone interview last week.

“We got redirected by the board on what the projects are we should be going forward on,” Franco said. “We have a finite amount of staff time.”

Not a priority

In June, the Board of Supervisors voted during budget hearings to prioritize South County parks, but it routed all $1.2 million in the public facility fees parks budget to projects in Nipomo, at the request of Supervisor Lynn Compton. Supervisors John Peschong and Debbie Arnold supported the motion.

Compton has repeatedly said that South County bore the brunt of development without receiving enough money for parks. This vote, she said, would begin to right the wrong.

“The PFF money is just gone,” Hill said in a phone interview last week. “There is literally no money now.”

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At Pirate’s Cove, a lone trash can that was brought in by volunteers is defaced with graffiti and overflowing with garbage. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

He said Compton’s “pulling of the funds” will “end up hurting whatever short-term measures we wanted on Pirate’s Cove.”

Hill and Supervisor Bruce Gibson criticized Compton’s proposal at the time of the vote and called it a political move, but neither of them mentioned other park projects that could use the funds.

“Everybody’s afraid to go toward park funding,” Hill said.

The mess remains

Today, the Pirate’s Cove clifftop remains abused and neglected, with graffiti marring the rocks and trash strewn all over.

The area continues to be a hot-spot for criminal activity, said Sheriff’s Commander Jim Voge, who oversees the Coast Station.

Deputies are called there for thefts from unlocked cars, fights and kids drinking and smoking. Two sexual assaults were reported there this year, both by victims who knew their assailant.

“There is patrol up there. We do the best we can with limited resources,” Voge said.

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Young people dance on the clifftop at Pirate’s Cove on a recent evening. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Posted hours and improved parking conditions would help, he said.

Franco said parks employees are trying to figure out a minimal project that could help manage vehicles and parking and deal with the trash. Volunteers do try to pick up the garbage, and the county does send a truck up to haul away the bags.

But anything more is going to take dedicated money, and that doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.

Hill said he will put together a small-scale proposal and take it to the board to possibly be funded by the county general fund.

“I still think something needs to be done because the problem’s not going away,” Hill said.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Coastal Commission did approve a project, but on limited terms.