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Environment

Coastal Commission holds meeting to discuss future of Oceano Dunes

Oceano Dunes
Entrance to Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

OCEANO, Calif. -- A decision on the future of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area remains on hold.

The California Coastal Commission held a key meeting Thursday morning where it discussed the popular outdoor attraction.

"There is no commission action on this item," said Commission Chair Steve Padilla. "We're grateful for the information and we're looking forward to actually seeing the results of completed analysis and attacking the PWP (Public Works Plan)."

The PWP will be an instrumental document that will ultimately determine what the park will look like for many years to come.

"State Parks has been preparing a Public Works Plan, or PWP, intended to govern uses and development at Oceano Dunes, where their intent is to use the PWP as a way to take a fresh look at park operations and make changes to better achieve their objectives and address coastal resource issues," said Kevin Kahn, Central Coast District Supervisor.

The Commission was originally scheduled to take action on the PWP, but the timeline was pushed back when it was announced State Parks would not be able to complete it due to unforeseen circumstances.

One of them included the Natural Resources Agency becoming more involved in the plan's preparation.

"There's been 40 years of contention on management, recreation and conservation issues over a truly iconic and unique part of California's coast," said Mark Gold, Deputy Secretary for Ocean and Coastal Policy for the California Natural Resources Agency. This additional time and collaborative process is absolutely critical to find the best path forward for California's biodiversity, wildlife, residents and visitors to the park."

While the state agencies work on the PWP, it's unknown exactly what future uses will be allowed.

There are many who fear it will permanently prohibit vehicle use.

"It will not be a tourist destination," said local resident Ginger Schenk, who was one of many callers that spoke during public comment. "Millions in revenue will be lost. The number of visitors just speaks volumes about what the people in this state want and this want this park."

For more than a hour, commissioners listened to callers from both sides.

Many phoned in or spoke virtually hoping to keep vehicle access, while several others called to express their desire to keep the dunes preserved.

"We would like to see this off-road vehicle issue completely taken off the sand dunes," said Fred Collins. "We would like to see it just used for people and their families the way it was intended."

Currently, the dunes are closed to vehicular traffic due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, but that may soon change.

"We are putting together a plan right now and we anticipate having a plan to be announced in the next few weeks of reopening parts of Oceano," said State Parks Director Armando Quintero. "It's not going to be just us out there deciding what we're going to do. We're going to working with the local county health ordinance and we also are going to look at the capacity. It's not just opening the gates and going back to previous numbers."

While the presentation PWP was delayed from its original target date, Gold said it expected to be ready to view in about two months.

"Our hope is that these draft documents, we made it very, very clear to the agencies, we want them done by December, by mid-December, and so, no more push back, etc., and so I want to provide you with that sort of certainty that I'll do everything that I can to try and make that happen," said Gold.

The completion of the PWP would likely allow the Commission to provide a final say on the Oceano Dunes in just a few months.

"If Resources proposed schedule were to hold, then the PWP would likely be before the Commission for action sometime in early 2021, perhaps February or March of next year," said Kahn.

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.

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