Proposed new Oceano Dunes entrance worries City Council members

Guadalupe City Council members expressed concerns about traffic impacts on roads near their city if California State Parks opens a southern entrance to the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

The City Council recently heard from Kevin Pearce, acting district superintendent of Oceano Dunes district, about the California State Parks proposal to possibly add an entrance and campground near Oso Flaco Lake.

“If you ever come down Highway 166 during certain parts of the day, we are congested like no other,” Councilman Tony Ramirez said. “I can only imagine how this will look like if we ended up having access to the beach this way. … There’s a lot of impact. I think that Guadalupe’s going to directly feel that.”

In addition to vehicles going between Santa Maria and Guadalupe, Highway 166 or West Main Street also is clogged with agricultural equipment traveling between fields and cooling facilities.

Pearce spoke about the proposed southern entrance as part of State Parks’ Public Works Plan. While State Parks is exploring a southern entrance among potential future projects, the Coastal Commission has recommended ending off-highway vehicle riding at the Oceano Dunes, with plans to discuss the topic July 11 at a San Luis Obispo meeting..

“I love the dunes the way it is, and I would hate to see vehicles running through there,” Councilwoman Gina Rubalcaba said.

Ramirez agreed.

“We love our dunes. This is like one of the last untapped areas, and everyone always will commend us on that,” he said.

Ramirez said a southern entrance could bring an economic boost to Guadalupe with the small city’s businesses benefiting from increased customers, but he was concerned that information about a possible new entrance had not been communicated to Guadalupe residents.

Mayor Ariston Julian asked what would happen to the Pier Avenue entrance of the Oceano Dunes. Another entrance sits at the end of Grand Avenue in Grover Beach.

“It’s still to be determined,” Pearce said, adding that Oceano residents have expressed concerns about traffic, which makes it difficult to exit their driveways.

A southern entrance will “potentially replace, will supplant, maybe support or enhance. We don’t know,” Pearce added.

Rubalcaba asked how the park rangers would stop drivers from heading south to the pristine Guadalupe Dunes.

“The Oso Flaco project has a lot of benefits and a lot of good things that could come of it, but it doesn’t come without some constraints and some concerns,” Pearce said.

One consideration is avoiding creating a corridor used by both pedestrians — Oso Flaco is popular for bird watching — and vehicles.

Pearce encouraged anyone interested in the future of Oceano Dunes and Oso Flaco to to sign up for email updates on the State Parks website.

“We’ve heard that concern: ‘We don’t want to do anything at Oso Flaco. We want to keep it the way it is,’” Pearce said. “We’re exploring all of our options that we have available to us.”

The possibility of new camping areas near Oso Flaco could lead to a reduction elsewhere in the Oceano Dunes.

Another option would be new campsites to expand the existing offerings. Oceano Dunes currently allows 1,000 camping units — or vehicles that stay overnight.

It’s also not clear what type of campsites would be added — some favor tent camping on the beach while others want a site with hookups for recreational vehicles, Pearce said.

Plans are conceptual at this point, Pearce emphasized.

“There’s a lot more steps before anything happens, but right now for Oso Flaco we have some ideas and concepts, but I just want to remind you these are early concepts,” he said. “We still have a few steps to go.”

Completion of the environmental impact report, Coastal Commission approval and further development of the concept likely means any changes would not occur until at least 2025, Pearce added.

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