The Trust for Public Land made significant progress this week toward acquiring Toro Creek Ranch, a property of coastal grasslands over rolling hills at the base of Toro Creek Road and a stretch of undeveloped beach between Morro Bay and Cayucos known as the “dog beach.”
With a goal of conserving the land for public access, the Coastal Conservancy on Thursday authorized giving $1 million to the Trust for Public Land to buy the 283-acre property from Chevron.
If funding is secured and negotiations go well, land would likely be turned over to the city of Morro Bay and the County of San Luis Obispo to be managed as a park and would enable the development of a coastal bike path from Morro Bay to Cayucos.
It’s the first money committed to the project that is estimated to cost around $5 million — a significant milestone for a vision that’s been held by local community members since the Chevron Marine Terminal ceased operations in 1999, according to Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose district includes the area.
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“This is absolutely something I would like to see happen,” Gibson said, noting that the project meets several of the county’s goals such as conservation, maintaining public access to the beach, and protecting open space between Morro Bay and Cayucos.
The Cayucos Sanitation District is also involved in the deal, as inland parcels would be used for underground infrastructure to support its new wastewater treatment plant on Toro Creek Road.
The deal could go through as soon as early 2020, according to Rachel Bier Lem, project manager for the Trust for Public Land.
The long stretch of undeveloped beach north of Morro Bay is a favorite for locals and visitors alike, and for good reason: Gorgeous views, good surfing and plenty of room to build sand castles or run with the dog.
Those uses will not likely change with a shift in ownership, proponents said.
“So many people are so passionate about dogs off leash there. It is a vision both the city and the county that use continue as it is,” Gibson said. “I have never seen a use in a park bring people together more than their four-legged friends.”
Public access to the inland parcels east of Highway 1 would not likely be immediate, Gibson said, but it could be available in the future.
Project backers envision the 283-acre acquisition as phase one of what they hope will be many phases of acquisition of land from Chevron, stretching into the hills above Morro Bay and opening the possibility of a coastal trail from Del Mar Park to Toro Creek Road, Gibson said.
Conservationists are eager to buy the land before it is acquired for another use. In the past several years, Chevron has sold some of its parcels to private owners and other lots are currently for sale, according to a California Coastal Conservancy staff report.
Beginning in the late 1920s, crude oil was stored there and loaded to large ocean tankers that anchored offshore. Some storage tankers have been removed in recent years, and Chevron is responsible for clean up.
Where that clean up needs to happen will likely shape which of the more than 2,000 acres Chevron owns the county would want to acquire, Gibson said.
“It’s fulfilling a longtime dream to conserve this incredibly special piece of land for its use and scenic beauty. It’s the start of potentially more conservation opportunities as Chevron works cooperatively with the land trusts and public agencies,” Gibson said.
“When it comes together, it’s going to be something special,” he said.