The California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 Thursday to defer a recommended ban on off-road vehicles at the Oceano Dunes for one year, while it begins a public process debating the recommendations that would ultimately phase out the use of off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation.

Hundreds of people on all sides filled the conference room and overflow of the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo for the day-long meeting to publicly express their views on the recommendations made in the staff report.

For decades, the dunes have been a source of contention between conservationists, area residents seeking safer beach access and quality of life, and off-roaders who accuse them of trying to take away one of the few remaining public spots they have left in the state.

The report listed 15 recommendations that included eliminating exceptions that allow unlimited OHV use during four holidays, allowing more future closures and dust controls, and banning night riding.

The staff report came weeks after the commission announced in late June that it would consider banning off-roading at the dunes.

The roughly 3,600 acre park -- formally called the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (ODSVRA) -- attracts recreationists from far and wide, including ATV enthusiasts who use a little less than half the park space along a three-mile stretch that consists of the actual sand dunes.

For nearly four decades, California State Parks has operated Ocean Dunes under a coastal development permit, which the Commission approved in 1982. However, commissioners noted that the mission of their body comes in direct conflict with the OHV use of the park.

“The bottom line in staff’s view is that the park and the CDP cannot continue to operate as it has in the past, and that the range of coastal resource issues and constraints affecting ODSVRA together suggest that it is time to start thinking about ways to transition the park away from high-intensity OHV use to other less intensive forms of public access and recreation,” the reported stated.

The meeting began at roughly 9:30 a.m. and by that time, a least a hundred people formed a line from the conference room that went through the lobby and wrapped around the hotel. Dozens of off-roaders filled the parking lot with their decked-out rigs, many of them flying American flags including at least one Confederate battle flag.

Forty-nine-year-old Tim Krivinko, a Local 403 pipefitter and native of the Central Coast, said the park is a major economic generator for the area and that eliminating off-road use would put many out of business and without jobs.

A 2016-17 report by the California State Parks estimated the overall economic impact -- much of it from tourism -- of the dunes to be $243 million annually.

“When I was a kid, you could drive all the way to Guadalupe,” Krivinko said. “More and more people are packing into a tighter and tighter area and that leads to more social issues.”

Deaths resulting from OHV use occasionally happen at the dunes. On Thursday night, California State Parks announced that one person was killed in an off-highway vehicle accident involving a motorcycle at about 6:50 p.m. The victim, who was not identified, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A 37-year-old Brentwood man was also killed recently in a suspected DUI incident.

Several groups including Surfrider Foundation supported the staff report because it would protect habitat for snowy plover and other protected species.

“If driving on Oceano [Dunes] is such a great idea, why isn't it done anywhere?” asked Brad Snook, of the San Luis Obispo County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “We need simple, common sense measures to help protect our watersheds.”

The majority of the commissioners were generally in favor of the recommendations but were willing to delay them for at least another year while more solutions are sought, although some of them wanted to implement them right away.

“There's a big elephant in our living room, no matter which side we're on,” said commissioner Stephen Padilla. “We know now what we didn't know then, that this is not sustainable. This is a slow-moving environmental disaster in motion.”

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