San Luis Obispo County

Coastal Commission to decide on off-road riding dilemma on Thursday

Commission considering to phase out OHV use

Coastal Commission to decide on off-road riding dilemma on Thursday

OCEANO DUNES, Calif. - The Oceano Dunes off-road riding saga could enter its final chapter on Thursday. The Coastal Commission is discussing a report looking to phase out activity at the State Vehicular Recreational Area.

For those in favor of regulations, it could mean clean air and less traffic. For those against, it could mean a drastic drop in tourism and revenue. 

"They've taken over. They need to back off!" said Lucia Casalinuovo, of the Oceano Beach Community Association.

Neighbors like Casalinuovo are fed up with what they call an environmental and social injustice at the dunes. 

"So is this really all about the money and fun? I'm really hurt and offended for all those people who stand against public health," she says. 

She's talking about the people who want to keep off-road riding at the beach. That includes businesses who depend on tourists coming to the Vehicular Recreational Area.

"They've built their whole livelihood and business model around those visitors," said President & CEO of the South County Chambers of Commerce, Jocelyn Brennan. "It's a $243 million economic impact to South County."

"Listen, if they brought in all that much money, why does Oceano look like it does?" Casalinuovo questions. "Have you been down in Pier Avenue? Have you seen the rats? Have you seen the homeless dig trenches under the empty lots for shelter?"

The Coastal Commission could decide to start the process of a ban at its meeting on Thursday.

"The businesses felt really caught off guard by the Coastal Commission staff report because State Parks was working with the Air Pollution Control District on a dust mitigation plan," said Brennan. 

The South County Chamber of Commerce cites a survey showing 62 percent of visitors would not come to the region if the dunes are closed off.

"It's thousands of visitors to our area and 16 percent of them don't even stay in the park. They stay in our hotels; they spend $52 million on dining, on retail," said Brennan. 

But Casalinuovo says pollution is so bad, you can't even have an ice cream cone at the beach. She believes conditions are also uninviting to regular beach goers. 

"If there are cars on the beach, there cannot be pedestrians, and pedestrians are really the people who bring money. They stay in hotels, in motels. Those thousand people that sleep on the beach, they do not pay any tax to our county."

Others disagree. 

"I've had several congestive heart failure, breathing problems, because of our air down in the valley," said Anthony Freitas, who frequently visits from the Central Valley. "The air here is so much cleaner."

Oceano Dunes is the only California beach that allows off-road riding. 

"If they ban it, we're competing with every other beach in California," said Brennan. 

Other staff-recommended changes include banning night riding, adding more fences at the park, and increasing enforcement. 

The Coastal Commission meeting will be held in San Luis Obispo at 9 a.m on Thursday, July 11. 

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