State Coastal Conservancy approves funds for Port San Luis campsite

Part of Harbor Terrace near Port San Luis.
Part of Harbor Terrace near Port San Luis. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In what state and local officials say could be a model for the future, the state Coastal Conservancy Thursday approved spending $400,000 for its staff to obtain the development permits for the Harbor Terrace project in Port San Luis in exchange for a part of the revenue the project generates.

The project calls for the 30-acre site adjacent to the main entrance of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to be developed into a campground and boat storage area. The project could be open by 2017.

The conservancy’s board of directors unanimously approved the project at Thursday’s meeting at Port San Luis, which included a lengthy discussion of how the agency could use such projects to continue to operate in an era of dwindling revenues.

“It seems our real legal obligation is to prepare for the worst,” said Chairman Douglas Bosco.

The agency is facing a “critical cultural change,” said Sam Schuchat, the conservancy’s executive officer. For the past decade, the agency has operated using $1 billion in revenue provided by a series of voter-approved ballot initiatives.

During that time, the agency would give grants to local agencies like the Port San Luis Harbor District to do land conservation and coastal access projects. That ballot initiative money is nearly gone and the agency could be running in the red as soon as 2016 or 2017 and may not be able to maintain staffing levels that are currently at about 75.

Many members of the conservancy board said the agency should keep more money by using its own staff to administer projects like Harbor Terrace. “I’m simply saying let’s just do it ourselves,” said Peter Sadowski, a public member of the board.

Using Harbor Terrace as a model for this new approach, the conservancy would take the project through the permitting phase, a process that should take about two years to complete. This includes preparing an environmental impact report.

A contractor would build the project, which should take three years. Once the project is running, the harbor district will share part of the revenue it generates with the conservancy, said Timothy Duff, project manager.

The conservancy would get a larger percent of the revenue in the beginning in order to recoup the $400,000 it spent on the permitting phase. That should take about five years, Duff said.

“That would pay for one staff member,” Bosco observed.

After that, the conservancy would get a lesser percentage of the revenues, probably about two and half percent, for the next 30 to 50 years, Duff said.

The campground would consist of a combination of tent camping, recreational vehicle camping and tent cabins. This complies with state policy that encourages affordable access to the coast.

“This will be a wonderful way for average families to enjoy this part of the coast,” Bosco said.

One member of the public spoke in opposition to the project -- Christine Cornejo, a caregiver to one of the last tenants of the Port San Luis Trailer Park, which is being closed to make way for the Harbor Terrace project.

She said the conservancy will encounter a variety of problems while getting the project’s permits, also called entitlement. These include earthquake faults, cultural remains and traffic.

“This is not an entitlement that will come easy,” she said.

Bosco responded that those are all normal issues that will be addressed during the project’s environmental review.