The state is taking our right to use the Oceano Dunes

July 10, 2019

Peter Keith


Ok, you own an ‘off road’ recreational vehicle and you enjoy recreating on Oceano beach or the adjoining sand dunes. You don’t mind paying the standard few bucks to enter the official ‘off road’ area for a full day of great fun and smiles for your entire family. You and your children learn so much about unity, machine mechanics, the dynamics of driving off road, including driving courtesy and elements of balance, safety, etc….

Well get ready, because you, me and a host of thousands and thousands of people just like us are about to lose something quite precious, that is the freedom to access Oceano Beach and Dunes with the solemn intent to simply have some good clean family fun.

Yes, the state in the form of the mighty California Coastal Commission is being urged (by their staff) to shut down access for recreational vehicular purposes in the popular Oceano Dunes and Beach!

What sort of duplicitousness is this?

Guess what one of the primary directives of the California Coastal law is…… Their raison d’etre. You guessed correctly if you said, ‘the enhancement of access to California’s beaches and the furtherance of public recreational activities.’ Not necessarily a quote but a paraphrase close enough to be a twin, or parallel statement.

Have Coastal Commission staff attorneys neglected to recognize state law regarding ‘prescriptive rights’? Paraphrasing and interpreting that law simply means, if a particular action occurs on a property owned by others (consistently) for five years or more without restriction or attempt to stop said action the right to access will be sustained (permitted) as a use in perpetuity!

The complainers regarding their health moved into their new homes not more than 25 or 30 years ago (prior to that, no complaints from existing homeowners). On the other hand, vehicular recreational activity on the beach and dunes has existed for more than 100 years! I would ask you, who are the fools here?

Why is the Coastal Commission staff recommending that voting members of the commission (the Coastal Commission meeting is to be held at SLO Embassy Suites July 11, beginning at 9 a.m.) to severely reduce or eliminate beach and dune motorized vehicles from historic entry to the dunes? When I suggest ‘historic use,’ I mean the beach and dunes have had motorized vehicles in use on them since the late nineteenth century (this of course being the 21st century). Chew on that for a bit.

Is this obtuse recommendation their response to a few people downwind who are chronic complainers about ‘dust in the wind’? Yes, it is! Did SLO County officials allow the removal and destruction of hundreds and hundreds of trees, primarily and historically planted and used to screen, slow or stop the flow of airborne particulate matter (sand/silica)? Yes, they did exactly that.

The county did this hatchet job (pun intended) at the request of home building developers simply so more homes could be built! Subsequently, SLO County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) has manipulated data over a period of time to demonstrate airborne particulate matter has exceeded federal or state standards on a number of occasions on an annual basis, while placing blame and the onus of accountability on ‘off road recreational vehicles.

What don’t these people get?

I have an answer, it’s not what they don’t get, it’s what they want to manipulate to serve their own selfish purposes. They are damning families who enjoy using their toys in the dunes…. You know, those bad, bad gas guzzlers.

Didn’t those home buyers sign a document in their home purchase escrow accounts acknowledging their complete understanding of downwind airborne sand and silica in the atmosphere and that their homes and ambient air flow would or could affect them in some manner? Yes, they were notified and yes, they signed off on the document!

Hippocrates. If you move your residency next to a busy airport then complain about airport noise, you certainly appear to be what you actually are, a nimby hypocrite! That is precisely what is happening locally only in a parallel universe of sand dunes instead of an airport.

Why is it that (annually) literally thousands of people from all over the world come to SLO South County spending $243,000,000 dollars every single year? Because they enjoy playing on the beach and the dunes, they thoroughly relish riding dune buggies, ATV’s and/or paying for a dune/beach tour from one of the several beach tour companies located locally.

Remember that dollar number, $243,000,000, that’s a lot’a clams’ babe! What will happen to South County’s financial stability when that money is gone?

Should SLO County and South County in particular lose those kinds of significant tourist dollars?

Could we actually suffer yet survive the twin losses of hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars from the closing of Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, as well as another magnitude of great financial loss if the dunes close to off road recreation?

I have thought about this potential devastation long and hard for more than 20 years, I have great and significant reservations about the financial survivability of South County businesses and indeed the continued sovereignty of South County governments.

With those kinds of financial losses who or what is going to come to the rescue of financially starved government agencies and failed businesses? The few homeowners who signed off on their understandings of wind driven particulate? Nope, not them! You and I will be taxed heavily yet again to make up that delinquent debt! What about hundreds of failed businesses as a result of dune/beach closure?

Where do those owners and employees go to make a living? Where will you go to purchase your needs when those businesses are broke and closed? And I mean, banks, grocery stores, drug stores, fueling stations, clothing merchants, all manner of retail shops, and services such as landscape maintenance (you’ll be too broke to afford that service!), dry cleaning, restaurants, bars (or saloons if you prefer), auto repair….. the list is endless.

Consider this statement taken directly from the Calififornia Coastal Commissions Public Resources Code, division 20. California Coastal Act, Article 3. recreation, Item 30221: “Ocean front land suitable for recreational use shall be protected for recreational use……”

In summary:

The Coastal Commission and APCD staff are both recommending (or demanding if you like) that vehicular recreation both in the Oceano dunes and the beach be discontinued now or over a short, limited period of time. Thereby saying in their recently released report, it is no longer appropriate to use those land areas for the continued, historical use, of ‘off road vehicles.’

There is so much more to this unhappy story.

Please attend the 9 a.m., July 11 Coastal Commission meeting at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo abd voice your opinion. Or simply write a brief note, card or letter letting the commissioners know of your objection to the closure of our precious Oceano Dunes vehicular recreational areas.

If the dunes close where are you going to ride? What replacement recreation will you discover? Or, if you prefer to continue to want off road riding entertainment you will be forced to drive hundreds of miles to California deserts just to enjoy yourselves again. Then what? Will too many people with recreation vehicles show up in permitted desert areas and yet again ignite another demand for discontinuation?

Peter Keith is a former Grover Beach mayor and two term council member. He played an active and leadership role in the cities name from Grover City to Grover Beach. He is an avid A.T.V., motorcycle  and dune buggy advocate and participant in off highway recreational use.

Peter is also a founding member (18 years) of the ‘Technical Review Team’ representing the local business communities interest in maintaining Oceano Dunes access for off road vehicles, the ‘Technical Review Team’ reports to various state agencies including the Coastal Commission regarding planned habitat, etc. In 1977, Peter was a member of the Grover citizens team which wrote the original ‘Local Coastal Plan,’ the first such plan to be certified by the State of California. Please note, Peter’s expressed views are not necessarily representative of those of the T.R.T. but rather are his personal views and  understandings. 

Peter is also the founder of the annual ‘Stone Soup Music Festival’ in Grover Beach (29 years).  Peter has a strong and long standing interest in a wide variety of community events and non-profit organizations as a financial sponsor and/or executive board member.  He can be reached at,



Let’s be blunt: leftists with state power want to cleanse the area of “rednecks” — the dunes are just a proxy for this.


To anyone who’s griping about the proposed closure: have any of you ever volunteered to help clean these beaches? (Because 80% of the clean up after the 4th was volunteer)

Or, have all you ever done is use them? For a small fee? And somehow that gives you a sense of ownership? Wow.

Kevin Rice

Don’t be a dumbass. I’ve organized HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of folk seven years in a row at largely my own expense. Wow, for sure.


As one of those Valley Rats, I agree 100%. Shut the dunes down to crazed off-roaders. How many deaths and lawsuits does the County and State Parks have to deal with before reality sinks in?

I was lucky enough to enjoy them, but what’s going on now is disgusting. What tourist do to those beaches, currently, is NOT “good family fun”.

Not matter what, people will still come to the Dunes: but now for a true nature experience. And spend just as much money, and not have to listen to the noise or deal with the dust or pollution.

It’s one spot who’s usefulness and purpose have been exploited.

There’s PLENTY of off-roading available in California: it’s just not on the beach, 3 hrs from the Valley. Sorry for the inconvenience. Now you know what the locals feel like every summer, especially the holidays.

Good, family fun? Times change. My father used to gather with the other locals and beat rabbits to death with sticks and bats. Lots of good, family fun. It’s time came and went. No big deal.


There’s PLENTY of coast and open space for “a true nature experience.” All over California. There’s only ONE Oceano/Pismo Beach.

“The locals …”? Which, the Valley seasonal locals? Or folks who lived here year-round? Made sport of clubbing rabbits with sticks and bats? Really? Gosh … been around homegrown locals generations back all my life, as well as seasonal Valley locals, and only saw that with ignorant brutes.

Who is anyone to say that dune buggying and quading isn’t a family-friendly experience? I think it’s a LOT more family-friendly than boring the kids having them traipse along some dull roped-in trail with an eco-nut guide making everyone feel guilty for even being alive.

LONG LIVE driving on Oceano/Pismo Beach!!!


Wow. What a terribly-written piece. Why restrict the off-road vehicles? See the next article right below yours about the injury that happened the same day you wrote this. And as you say, they pay a small fee. Then they camp there. They bring most of their own food and supplies. How much of the $243m are actually tied to the dunes? This opinion is un supported, off-base, logically deficient, and just plain bad.

Kevin Rice

Actually, your opinion is unsupported and proven false. Two million visitors support 3,300 full time jobs and $243M, rivaling the county wine industry. Yosemite and the Grand Canyon have more injuries, so let’s quit pretending you care one whit about that.


While I feel your pain Mr. Keith, I’m not sure “machine mechanics” and “the dynamics of driving off-road” are particularly family building exercises. I also don’t agree with the doom and gloom economic forecasts once we lose the Dunes, although I suppose a few liquor stores on Grand Avenue may be in trouble. Once the gear heads are off the beach, other tourists are sure to show up. Pismo, Avila and Morro Bay—and EVERY other beach community on the West Coast for that matter—are still full on the weekends and you can’t drive on the beach in those places.


Getting those vehicles off the beach WILL bring more people to the beach who will spend money at the hotels, restaurants and other places. None of the economic arguments put forth by the Duners have any validity. It’s another baseless argument to scare people into thinking things can’t change. Pismo Beach is a prime example.


Funny, I am absolutely POSITIVE that “machine mechanics” and “the dynamics of driving off-road” are extremely family-building activities.

I know it for certain sure.


Sounds like this is finally one thing too big for PK to ‘buy’ or ‘sponsor’ or ‘vote’ his way. When the Valley rats can finally respect our dunes, I’d be all for respecting their desire to use them. Until then, DON’T TRASH OUR BEACH!

Kevin Rice

Well that’s pretty racist. No one is trashing OUR beach (it’s a STATE beach), save the dozens of vagrants living in the bushes with everyone’s stolen property. The ocean does make a great trash delivery system, though. I don’t expect you’d have any notion of that fact, however.


I didn’t think the beaches where that bad until I signed up with ECOSLO for a beach cleanup day. Now I have done dozens of beach cleanups between Grover Beach and Oceano. Pick any 20’x20′ area and dig 6′ deep, you will be there all day and end up with about 10 30gallon trash bags full, mostly of beer bottles. The beach is certainly being trashed, and I would bet every area that visits, be it local or from the valley plays their part in the mess. After doing cleanups and seeing the enormous amount of broken beer bottles on our beach I will never walk on the beaches around here without shoes.


Hey Kevin, not that Im for closing yet another riding area, but I do have a few decades on you and will say the dunes, as well as most other public rec area’s, are far from what they were back in my heyday. I think it goes with the territory with more usage or people. Id imagine you’ve seen a bit of it yourself in your experience. Seems trash collection is always a issue where ever one goes. Kelso Valley, Red Mountain, Red Rock, The Sierra and unfortunately the Kernville area last visit was pretty disgusting. Crap filled diapers, graffiti all over the river boulders, beer bottles and general trash about. Really sad to see how some regard our resources and wonder why the closures take place as well as fee’s rising and more taxes to support personnel to take care of the typical usage related needs and yet we get what we have in some places. Seems the dog in this fight is about money and dust so we’ll see where it goes.


Hmmm … a lot of those “Valley rats” have been vacationing here for generations. This has been their second home since long before a lot of those folks living in the windswept new homes on the Mesa even heard of SLO County. Have a little respect for the Valley folks, please. They are almost as much an historical part of this area’s prosperity as the ocean itself.

George Garrigues

You said “without restriction.” I guess that shoots your whole argument (at least that in the first few paragraphs). Anyway, I’d need a lawyer to parse out the rest of your argument, but thanks for presenting it.


This time they don’t care what we think…the state is going to force us to shut it down…and there is nothing we in a one party state can do about it…if you own a business in Oceano that caters to tourists from the valley you may as well begin to shut down….


Don’t be so fast to make that judgment that Oceano is going to shut down! On the contrary, Oceano will see a vast improvement with people coming to the beach who will stay at hotels that will be built, restaurants that will have staying power! It will be the exact opposite to what you’re preaching! Pismo Beach is a prime example! Or take a look at Avila Beach! Pismo and Avila property values are way up, restaurants are thriving, hotels are ‘no vacancy.’ These are not patronized by the people who bring their rigs to drive on the beach. And none of the so-called economic reports can back up their claims that Oceano will shut down.


Yup … look at the town of Avila.

Gone. Disappeared.

What’s there now is a carbon copy of a “stylish, attractive little town,” L.A.-style. Avila the town, authentically CASUAL, attractive and beachy as only a little California coastie town can or could be, was deliberately destroyed for all intents and purposes and re-made into what some set-designer-gone-“urban-planner” decided was quaint and beachy, for all that contrived “casual” and exclusive, super expensive to live or stay there now, highly alienating to a large number of regular working-class folks who used to feel at home playing in Avila. Now they feel like strangers.

Why would anyone want to see that happen to Oceano?

Kevin Rice

Oceano will never be Avila or Pismo. It’s windswept and cold and held down by the airport restrictions.