There’s a new plan to improve Pirate’s Cove — but it could make parking more difficult

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.

County Parks & Recreation unveiled plans to improve the undeveloped coastal bluff known as Pirate’s Cove, but it includes reducing parking space by about a third — a detail of the project that could lead to its demise.

The county project does propose to fix parking in one way: by filling in ruts in the dirt parking lot with “native-colored stone road base,” according to parks director, Nick Franco.

The project would also add two paved disability parking spaces, as well as trash and recycling bins, bicycle racks and informational signs about the Native American history to the area. In addition, boulders would be placed around the perimeter of the parking area and a center island of vegetation,

The project involves adding storm drains and a cleared space where the county could install gates for evening closure, if they decide to do that in the future. Those elements would take away parking space and that’s a problem.

pirates cove
Litter, graffiti and vandalism are common sights at Pirate’s Cove; county officials have been debating how to deal with the problem. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The project is modest relative to the county’s previous plans to develop the area. Still, parks staff have heard complaints about parking. The new design would reduce the estimated space for parking from about 75 vehicles to 50.

A few complaints normally might not cause a government project to halt, but officials are particularly motivated to satisfy community members because previous projects were killed in public appeals in recent years.

To permit this project, the county needs Planning Commission approval. If approval is appealed, the Board of Supervisors could overturn the permits. If supervisors approve it, it could be appealed to the Coastal Commission, which is where a $1.5 million development plan for Pirate’s Cove was killed last time.

To avoid appeal, Franco said the department is sending the project back to designers to request more room for parking.

“If a designer comes back and has addressed the concerns we’ve heard, we’ll apply for a permit,” Franco said. “If they can’t, we go back to the drawing board because I think it will be appealed and could be denied.”

That would again postpone long-anticipated improvements to the property also known as Cave Landing that the county purchased years ago with the intention of developing.

Instead, the dirt parking area adjacent to an important Native American site continues to look like the surface of the ocean on a windy day and garbage is strewn around the makeshift trails.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: mvaughan@thetribunenews.com