West Coast
CLOSED: The Oceano Dunes SVRA has been closed to vehicles since March 26, when State Parks closed the park in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Jayson Mellom / New Times SLO

CA - Petitioners Duel Over Possible Reopening of Oceano Dunes

It's been six months since vehicles were allowed in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA), and some community members want it to stay that way—at least until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.

Hundreds have signed a petition aimed at keeping the Oceano Dunes closed to vehicles for the duration of the pandemic or until cases in SLO County and surrounding areas fall within "acceptable levels in accordance with the state's criteria." As of Sept. 22, more than 1,200 people had signed the petition, which was addressed to SLO County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein and State Parks and was released online in mid-September by the Dunes Alliance, a coalition of organizations aimed at keeping the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes complex environmentally sustainable.

"Protecting our public health must be the priority," the petition reads. "Therefore, we call upon our local public health officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein, and the director of California State Parks, Armando Quintero, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus by keeping the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area closed to vehicles. Doing so will avoid dangerous visitation surges in San Luis Obispo County from areas with higher rates of COVID-19."

The Oceano Dunes SVRA has been closed to vehicles since March 26, when State Parks closed the park in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Despite budding reopening plans in the summer, State Parks agreed to keep the Oceano Dunes closed to vehicles through Oct. 1 in a consensual cease and desist order with the California Coastal Commission.

In the order, which was finalized on July 7, State Parks agreed to halt a number of development activities that the commission claimed were unpermitted and possibly harmful to snowy plovers. Without vehicles in the area throughout the spring, snowy plovers built nests outside their "seasonal exclosures"—designated breeding areas that are off limits to vehicles and visitors—and State Parks had attempted to prevent plovers from nesting in those areas in preparation for reopening.

The closure has offered some community members a chance to see what the dunes would look like without the thousands of buggies, four-wheelers, and dirt bikes that roll through each year.

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