Decision day for Dunes

Riders take to the County owned land in the Oceano Dunes which may be up for sale.
Photo by Joe Johnston 4-12-07
Riders take to the County owned land in the Oceano Dunes which may be up for sale. Photo by Joe Johnston 4-12-07 The Tribune

For sale: Beachfront property. 584 acres. Completely equipped with endless controversy, motor vehicles on the beach, environmental problems, and, of course, sand. A bargain at $4.86 million. Contact San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. The state Department of Parks and Recreation has already made a bid to the county for its nearly 600 acres smack in the middle of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. The Board of Supervisors will consider Tuesday whether to accept.

The land has a long and varied history. In recent decades, most of the property has been part of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area; it makes up about a third of the total off-roading riding area.

The state and county have held an operating agreement regarding the land since 1983. That agreement — which allows the state to use the land at no cost — expires in June 2008. And the state wants to cut out the middleman.

Many in the Oceano area and around the county have strong opinions about the sale and whether vehicles should be allowed on the beach.

THE TOWNSPEOPLEOceano residentsMany of them object to the all-terrain vehicles. They create a summer traffic nightmare, residents say, and the less-reasonable visitors litter the town and the beach. The ATVs pollute the air, they say, and their noise can be heard on the Nipomo Mesa as well as inArroyo Grande.

Oceano merchants

The ATV crowd brings in a lot of money, especially to those who rent out dune buggies and ATVs, which can go for as much as $185 an hour.

Oceano officialsOfficials want funding to go to Oceano from the sale or lease of the Dunes land because the small seaside community bears the brunt of the negative impacts.


ATV ownersMany have been coming to Oceano for generations and laud the activity as a family-building pastime. They point out that this is the only place on California’s 900-mile coastline where dune buggies are allowed.

Local communitiesRepresentatives of surrounding communities — including Pismo Beach and Grover Beach — have been largely supportive of continued off-roading. That’s because of the economic impact the tourism brings (estimated to be as much as $200 million).

The StateThe state wants to buy the land, which could secure it for future generations of riders. If renewing the lease is an option, state officials would prefer a long-term lease to a short-term one, according to county officials.


ATV opponentsMost of these folks want the beach to return to its pristine purity so they can walk, swim and do other beach activities without worrying about vehicles. Some of them say even if the all-terrain vehicles go, some less objectionable money-maker will replace them, perhaps resorts.

Safety proponentsHundreds of people have been injured and some killed by ATVs, despite safety training. Some observers say that is enough to remove them from the beach.

EnvironmentalistsEnvironmentalists generally don’t support selling. At the very least, they want an alternate access route to prevent creek contamination. Some say leasing would be better than selling because the county keeps more control of the property.

THE DECIDER: SLO county board of supervisorsThe state’s 25-year lease of the property from the county expires in June 2008. The agreement currently is a no-cost lease set up so that the state assumes any liability for accidents. Supervisors will have to decide if they want a new lease, accept the state’s $4.8 million offer, or let the current lease run out.