SLO County wants to improve Pirate’s Cove. That could mean cameras and locked gates

San Luis Obispo County will try again to improve and actively manage Pirate’s Cove, which could mean security cameras and a parking lot closed at night.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to direct parks staff to work with conservation groups and residents to develop a plan for minimal improvements that would maintain the area’s rustic character.

“This county owns this property in trust for and in benefit of the public and we’ve fallen short. We need to make improvements and operational changes,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said.

The plan would not likely change the beach’s clothing-optional status. It could include an extensive one-time cleanup, installation of permanent trash and recycling containers, improved signage, leveling the parking area, and options for supervisors to consider security cameras and whether to close the parking area with a gate at night.

“I’ve been up there at night and I gotta tell you: If you want anonymous sex or drugs, that’s the place,” Supervisor Adam Hill said, as he urged supervisors to take action.

But the kinds of changes the county wants is going to require a permit from the California Coastal Commission, which in 2014 rejected parts of the county’s last plan for Pirate’s Cove.

The scenic coastal property has been marred with environmental destruction and increasing public safety concerns ever since.

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County Supervisor Adam Hill, left, and county Parks Director Nick Franco talk about the future of Pirate’s Cove during a visit in September 2016. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

To see what they could do this time, Hill and Supervisor John Peschong met with staff from the Coastal Commission in October.

They agree there needs to be a “shock to the system” to deter bad activities and increase public access, Hill reported back.

Closing the area at night continues to be a major point of contention. While Parks Director Nick Franco says he thinks it is necessary to address public safety needs, the Coastal Commission rejected night closure in 2014.

This time, Franco proposes closing the parking lot to vehicles with a locked gate, but continuing to allow people to walk in after hours.

That could require quite a hike, and it raised questions from Supervisor Lynn Compton about whether cars would instead park in nearby neighborhoods.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold proposed an idea to allow park regulars or people who have been approved by the county to have a key card that would open the gate. Other supervisors did not respond to the idea.

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The rutted dirt lot at Pirate’s Cove could be paved as one measure to improve access to the blufftop park. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

She too was skeptical of night closure, suggesting that it would increase criminal activity instead of decrease it.

“When you have remote areas at night and you say you’re going to close, very often that means your bring only the criminal element to that area if you have public property without any oversight,” Arnold said.

Residents who actively opposed the county’s plan in 2014 asked for more public participation in the process this time around.

One of them, Holly Hetherington of Grover Beach, said the problems at Pirate’s Cove have been exaggerated and are easily solved with a part-time ranger.

The county Parks and Recreation Department had given the supervisors three options to address issues at Pirate’s Cove: Improve the property, increase staff, or sell the land.

Selling the land, is “off the table. No one wants to sell,” Peschong said.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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