The State Parks director got an earful Thursday from South County residents and area visitors about their hopes for Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
State Parks staff held a meeting in Pismo Beach to hear public comment that might shape a new Public Works Plan, a mechanism for long-term management of the park that could result in new programs or facilities, including campgrounds, a south park entrance, and changes to off-highway vehicle recreational activities.
What they heard from some of the more than 100 attendees represented the divergent and sometimes tense disagreements about the value of the park and the impacts of off-road vehicles to it and the community.
They ranged from off-roaders whose families for generations have bonded by riding on the dunes and aren’t willing to lose an acre of grounds, to park neighbors who scolded the department for failing to protect their communities from garbage, noise and health-harming dust.
Oceano Dunes SVRA draws 2.1 million visitors a year, resulting in more than $10 million annual taxable income to local businesses, according to State Parks.
Both the dunes and Pismo State Beach operate under a General Plan put in place in the mid-1970s. The new, more detailed plan could take up to two years to develop and will need approval from the California Coastal Commission.
This will not derail another recently approved plan to enhance dust mitigation on the dunes over the next five years.
“During this process of developing the Public Works Plan, it’s still very much our intent to move forward with the dust mitigation plan that’s been developed,” Parks Director Lisa Mangat said.
In her opening statements, Mangat demonstrated that she knew what she was in for.
“I think the issues we’ve got here are very sensitive. People are very passionate about the recreation here. It is part of a long legacy of many families. We recognize that we are a very important part of the air quality out in this community. We also recognize that we are a very important part of the economic landscape of this community. We also know that we have a very, very successful program when it comes to protecting endangered species such as snowy plover,” Mangat said.
“For decades, we’ve not yet had a comprehensive conversation in the way that we’re planning to do here today and initiate today.”
Here is what people had to say:
Karen White, Oceano Community Services District
“Oceano — the gateway to the dunes — gets all the noise, traffic, congestion, garbage, and blowing sand from the beach and dunes. ... What we don’t get is any benefit for the upheaval in our lives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Oceano Services District could get $.50 a year from each of the 2.1 million visitors to the beaches to balance the dirt, cars fumes and garbage these people generate?”
Jeff Blewett, California Four Wheel Drive Association
“We have a long history of working to keep the dunes open. ... We keep seeing reduced size of the park. That’s the biggest thing (members) want to keep down, is the loss of more acreage. ... Off-roaders get accused of being a lot of things, but if you look at who we are, it’s families — families spending their time together not watching TV, not playing video games. They’re out in nature.”
Micheal Dahna, Oceano
“I’ve been going to the dunes and beach since the early ’70s. I play on it every day. My family plays out there. We don’t want to lose any more area. Since the ’70s we’ve lost over half of what we had. You separate people out, and you have (fewer) problems. Now it’s all congested where we need to get more area to spread everybody out. I’ve lived here a long time. I enjoy the beach. And I’d hate to see it go away.”
Ginger Schenk, Grover Beach business owner
“I love the OHV park. It’s one of my favorite things about living here. ... Developers have decided to put in these these beautiful homes and golf courses — it’s still windy and dirty and sandy. It’s still not a desirable area. ... It’s always been dreary and sandy; it’s nothing new. I would be curious to know what the actual medical hospital statistics are for people sick up there with respiration (illness) versus other areas. I don’t see the statistics. I beg, if you take any land, please open more up.”
Lucia Casalinuovo, Oceano
“You haven’t done anything to mitigate the dust problem on the Mesa. Parks and Off-Road Vehicle Division have delayed and delayed and delayed for years. The few bales that you have put on the sand have done nothing to protect the health of the people on the Mesa. Now, even if you close down a little bit of the dunes, that wouldn’t help the residents in Oceano beach and Pier Avenue. ... You are guilty of environmental injustice against Oceano — a poor community, 40 percent Hispanic and uneducated.”
Fred Collins, Northern Chumash Tribal Council
“In 1975 you folks opened up an amusement park on our sacred land. The product of this amusement park is garbage, death. ... This is in addition to the folks that live down there and have horrible issues with the dust. ... You have utterly failed in your mission to protect the environmental issues along this coastline and along this park. ... The dunes are a diamond in the rough down there, and you have missed it. You put vehicles down there instead of souls — instead of people walking and enjoying it. You don’t have to ride in a vehicle in order to have people enjoy that place. It is a sacred land. Do your job.”