SLO County has a new plan to clean up Pirate’s Cove, but it’s missing one key feature

What people are saying about trash and nudity at Pirate’s Cove near Avila Beach

Pirate's Cove is San Luis Obispo County's only nude beach. But it isn't the nudity that people complain about most. It's the trash.
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Pirate's Cove is San Luis Obispo County's only nude beach. But it isn't the nudity that people complain about most. It's the trash.

The county parks department has another new plan to clean up and improve safety at Pirate’s Cove, the mostly undeveloped blufftop park that’s been a hotspot for crime, litter and vandalism for decades.

The proposal focuses on improving parking, reducing trash and increasing oversight and was developed after a series of meetings and workshops with groups who have actively blocked prior plans to develop the county-owned property.

“It’s been a long process and a controversial process,” said Parks Director Nick Franco. “If it’s a controversial process, that’s because people care about it and that’s a good thing.”

The new proposal doesn’t have everything for everyone and does away with a few aspects of old proposals that some people — including the California Coastal Commission — rejected as over-development of a rustic area that should be left alone.

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pirates cove
Litter, graffiti and vandalism are common sights at Pirate’s Cove; the county is working on a plan to clean up the area. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Top among the missing components is a bathroom, which begs the question of whether the proposed project will stop people from leaving feces and toilet paper on the ground.

After meetings with the public, an ad hoc committee and Coastal Commission staff, Franco developed the proposal by consolidating aspects of the project that people generally agreed on. A bathroom was not one of those things.

“Some people are opposed to too much development. Others like the idea, but only want a flush toilet, which is cost-prohibitive. (Still others) are concerned about increasing crime if you have a bathroom,” Franco said.

The new plan also doesn’t include paving the parking lot, improving trails or limiting hours of access to the park.

Here’s what is proposed:

  • Improve parking with minimal paving of the entry way from Cave Landing Road and installation of natural rock surfacing in the parking lot.
  • Install natural rock barriers around the parking lot and the interior island to decrease impacts to natural and cultural resources.
  • Install interpretive signs about Native American history, natural history and other features of the area.
  • Perform a one-time complete trash and graffiti removal from parking lot and cave area.
  • Increase park ranger presence, especially around sunset.
  • Increase law enforcement patrol.
  • Install permanent, vandalism-resistant trash cans.
  • Install new signs.

The Board of Supervisors will hear about the proposed project on Tuesday and if supportive, will vote to allocate $25,000 to develop design plans that will be used in the permitting and public review process. If the county ultimately approves the improvements, the public could appeal it to the Coastal Commission, which happened in 2014.

The county did little to improve the area for several years after the Coastal Commission rejected part of the county’s plan in 2014, even as the significant Native American cultural site was vandalized, trash littered the trails and reports of crime, including sexual assault, were reported to the Sheriff’s Department.

“Hopefully, we can do something,” Franco said of the current proposal.

If the project moves forward smoothly and funding is acquired, the quickest the work could happen is in about two years.

The project calls for the county to consider further restrictions on the area if the initial actions are unsuccessful at addressing trash and crime.

Pirates Cove016 (1)
Pirate's Cove near Avila Beach has had crime, safety and cleanliness problems for years, including a rutted parking area, trash and graffiti. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

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Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan
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