Is the Oceano Dunes closing? 5 things to know about the push to ban off-road vehicles

With its landmark announcement last week that the California Coastal Commission will consider phasing out OHV use at the Oceano Dunes, the riding community has burst with a tornado of questions:

Does this mean the park is closing?

When will it happen?

What about our camping reservations?

To help clear some things up, here are answers to a few of the most common questions floating around regarding the proposal.

And remember: the California Coastal Commission will discuss the recommendation at its meeting in San Luis Obispo on July 11. The meeting will be held at Embassy Suites Hotel at 9 a.m.

Is the entire Oceano Dunes park closing?

Short answer: no. The California Coastal Commission staff’s recommendation is to begin phasing out only OHV (off-highway vehicle) use at the state park, not to shutter the entire 3,600-acre park.

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According to Coastal Commission planner Kevin Kahn, this is the biggest misconception most people have about the recommendation.

“That is simply not accurate,” he wrote in an email to The Tribune on Monday.

Khan said the current recommendation before the Coastal Commission — the one it is expected to consider at its San Luis Obispo meeting — is mainly about addressing coastal resource impacts from OHV use now, and having State Parks prepare to transition away from that high-impact use in the future.

Those include prohibiting night riding, increasing enforcement and adding more fences at the park.

“Really, the staff recommendation can be boiled down to one that provides needed changes to begin to address the problems of the park’s status quo, and also to begin a discussion about the park’s long-term future, a future that staff believes should be without OHV,” he said. “But we are certainly not suggesting that 3,600 acres of coastal dunes and six miles of public beach be closed off to all uses — that is inaccurate.”

Does this mean no more cars at all?

Once again: no.

Both Kahn and the commission’s Central Coast District Director Dan Carl said commission staff envision a future at the park where car and RV camping on the beach is still allowed.

“We think a transition that allows for car camping could provide for a really cool feature for the public and for those that like to camp at Oceano Dunes,” Carl said in a previous interview with The Tribune. “There’s a great history of that.”

Will camping reservations be dropped?

On the topic of camping, one of the major concerns in light of the recommendation was how the Coastal Commission’s decision could impact existing reservations for the park.

Among staff’s recommendations is a clause to cap the number of reservations at 700 camping units per night, down from the 1,000 currently allowed.

Kahn said that 30% decrease in the number of allowed reservations is “reflective of the 30% loss of acreage dedicated for camping” due to increased fencing and environmental adjustments over the years.

Depending on whether the commission approves the staff’s recommendations or not, some of the changes would go into effect immediately after the July 11 meeting, including the reservation cap.

This puts up to 300 reservations per night through the summer at risk.

According to State Parks Oceano Dunes District Interim Superintendent Kevin Pearce, the state park is already sold out of camping reservations for many of it summer weekends.

Pearce noted that camping reservations for big holidays usually sell out months in advance. For the upcoming July 4 holiday, Pearce said they sold out on the first day the reservations opened in early January.

If the commission decision is approved as proposed, those extra reservations would have to be dropped, Kahn said. It’s unclear how State Parks would decide which 300 would be canceled.

When would the OHV ban happen?

It’s far from a done deal yet.

The staff recommendations primarily focus on short-term changes to the park that don’t eliminate OHV use in the near future — and even those are subject to approval by the Coastal Commission

The commission could also choose to not support the push to phase out OHV use.

If this first phase of recommendations is approved, Carl said most of the changes would be in place by October or December.

There is no specific timeline for when OHV use could ultimately stop at the park.

How can I share my opinion with the Coastal Commission?

With a little over a week left before the commission meeting, there is still time to share your opinion with the group before it makes its decision.

Comments can be submitted to the Coastal Commission at The full staff report is also available there.

And if you can’t make the meeting, a live stream will also be available on the commission’s website.

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.