Oso Flaco Lake dunes.
Near the Oso Flaco Lake entrance sits agricultural land, with the sandy dunes visible. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

With one member calling Oso Flaco Lake and the nearby dunes “a natural jewel,” the Guadalupe City Council opposed the state’s proposed changes for the pristine area.

On Tuesday night, the council voted 4-1 to send a letter to the California Coastal Commission to oppose State Department of Parks and Recreation proposed changes for Oso Flaco Lake just north of the city and support staff recommendations to phase out off-highway vehicle traffic on the dunes.

Councilman Eugene Costa Jr. cast the lone vote against the motion.

The council’s discussion came before next Thursday’s virtual meeting of the California Coastal Commission to review the Oceano Dunes Coastal Development Permit.

Commission staff contend that OHV use has degraded dunes habitat, harmed native species, caused air quality and public health issues, and made it difficult for other nonvehicular recreational uses.

The state agency’s staff recommended phasing out riding over five years and immediately closing Pier Avenue to vehicle access.

In contrast, State Parks recently released its draft Public Works Plan for Oceano Dunes, which suggested expanding vehicular use and adding new campgrounds, along with installing a vehicle entrance near Oso Flaco Lake.

Proposed changes include converting 120 acres of prime agricultural and dunes land, adding 200 recreational vehicle campsites with 12 restroom/shower buildings, 100 drive-in tent sites and eight restroom/shows building, 20 campsites and more. 

Guadalupe, which calls itself the “gateway to the dunes,” sits just east of the pristine Rancho Guadalupe Dunes at the western end of Highway 166 (West Main Street).

Just to the north of Guadalupe is Oso Flaco Lake and then the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area in southern San Luis Obispo County. 

Mayor Ariston Julian recalled regularly bass fishing at Oso Flaco Lake, something he said can no longer occur because of sand intrusion related to off-highway vehicle use on the dunes to the north.

“The environmental damage that would be created to me is not worth us approving this plan,” Julian said, adding that he believed the council needed to object to the Oso Flaco proposal and support the California Coastal Commission’s recommendation for future use.

Julian recalled the long battle by environmental activist Kathleen Goddard Jones, who died in 2001 and was known as “the Dunes Mother” to keep Oso Flaco Lake pristine. 

Councilman Gilbert Robles called Oso Flaco “a jewel” while serving as a natural preserve and wants to see it remain that way.

“To open it up to have a second entrance, I don’t think so,” Robles said. 

Guadalupe council members noted the possible traffic impact on the city and nearby farming operations. The currently narrow Oso Flaco Road most likely would need widening and result in a loss of agricultural land.

Councilman Tony Ramirez said the issue has been discussed for 1½ years.

“It’s been something that’s been near and dear to me,” he said. “It started off with it, honestly, being the lack of transparency coming from State Parks.”

It isn’t the first time the council rejected the idea of OHV access to the dunes near Oso Flaco Lake, with the prior council speaking out against the idea in 2019.

The California Coastal Commission meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday. The agenda and steps for participating in the virtual hearing are available by clicking here.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.