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.
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Among them:• Some Oceano residents dislike the noise, trash and pollution they say are brought by vehicles on the beach;• All-terrain vehicle enthusiasts want to make sure they will be able to carry on their family traditions of trips to the Dunes;• Merchants in the South County town say they depend on recreation at the Dunes for their livelihoods;• Environmentalists say traffic on the beach harms habitat and threatens wildlife, such as the snowy plover; and• Various government agencies want a cut of the take from the sale of the land.All those opinions and more are expected to be voiced Tuesday in a long afternoon of public testimony.The hearing is set to begin at 2 p.m. It will take “yes” votes from four of the five supervisors to OK the sale.Supervisors have many options. Among them are selling the land, renewing the existing operating agreement, creating a new agreement requiring the state to pay rent, or selling with conditions (such as that the state create an alternate access route to the beach).The county’s General Services Department has recommended approval of the sale. But the Planning Commission declared the sale not in conformity with the county’s General Plan and called into question whether off-road vehicle use should be allowed on the land in the future.The supervisors could decide it is in conformity, said Linda Van Fleet, associate real property agent with county General Services. And the board can sell the property whether or not it’s in conformity, Van Fleet said. Whether that would open the county up to legal challenges isn’t clear.
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.
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.