West Coast
With the only coastal off-road recreational area in California all but closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, shorebirds are free to bask in the setting sun on the beach at Oceano Dunes. (Courthouse News photo / Chris Marshall)

CA - Coastal Commission Punts Decision on Future of Off-Road Recreation at California Beach

(CN) — Even though members of the California Coastal Commission believe the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area could be subject to Governor Gavin Newsom’s order this week protecting state lands and waters, they did not get to vote Thursday on a public works plan regarding future use and development of the park.

The delay marks the latest extension in resolving the fight between recreation enthusiasts and environmentalists over the future of the land.

The California Coastal Commission, which governs land use decisions involving the state’s coastline, was originally scheduled to vote whether to approve a public works plan by the state Department of Parks and Recreation regarding use and development of the state park in San Luis Obispo County.

Oceano Dunes is the only California beach which allows off-road vehicle recreation. Environmentalists and the Coastal Commission want to see the state park transition away from off-road vehicle use, claiming it damages environmentally sensitive habitat areas and the nesting area of endangered California shorebirds. Recreation enthusiasts say the land was purchased from a state trust to be used specifically for off-road vehicle recreation and it must continue to be used that way.

But the dispute over the way Oceano Dunes should be used isn’t just between environmentalists and recreationists. Several state agencies involved in managing the land have been unable to come to a long-term planning agreement for years.

After submitting multiple plan drafts to the commission since 2017, State Parks’ plans for Oceano Dunes would increase off-road vehicle use on the beach. The commission had directed off-road vehicle use be phased out over five years due to environmental and conservation concerns, especially regarding the endangered Western snowy plovers which nest in the dunes.

Over the summer, State Parks entered into a consent cease-and-desist order with the Coastal Commission after a whistleblowing investigation by the Center for Biological Diversity showed State Parks was deterring expanded snowy plover nesting during the Covid-19 beach closure.

Since then, Ocean Protection Council director Mark Gold of the Natural Resources Agency told commissioners Thursday, balancing the issues between recreation and conservation at Oceano Dunes “has become a major priority in the Resources Agency.”

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