Oceano Advisory Council set to examine local airport renovation



San Luis Obispo County's proposed renovation of the airport campground in the Oceano Community Services District (OCSD) sparked community concern and confusion about the purpose of a place that primarily caters to private pilots.

"Within the last 10 years, easily, there has been talk about what is the point of the airport. Who does it really serve?" said April Dury, who calls herself a member-at-large of the Oceano Advisory Council. "The San Luis airport serves the public, ... but the Oceano airport doesn't serve the public at all. Oceano, essentially, is a depressed economic area."

The almost 70-year-old OCSD airport is run by the county and funded through its Airport Enterprise Fund. On May 3, Henry Bonifas—a county environmental specialist—notified the Oceano Advisory Council about the campground upgrade that would include eight campsites with a fire pit and picnic table, a group barbecue area with a grill and string lighting, and a lighted footpath with landscape planting. The airport currently allows people who fly in to camp in its open space, which has a fire pit and restrooms. The council has 14 days to respond with their recommendations.

COMMUNITY CONFUSION On May 12, the Oceano Advisory Council will take public input about the local airport campground renovation—a project that has left some confused about the airport’s true purpose. - PHOTO FROM FRIENDS OF OCEANO AIRPORT WEBSITE
  • COMMUNITY CONFUSION On May 12, the Oceano Advisory Council will take public input about the local airport campground renovation—a project that has left some confused about the airport’s true purpose.

But Dury said that restricted public access to the airport is making it hard for the council to examine the grounds. After several days of making multiple calls, Dury said she managed to book a tour for the afternoon of May 11, after New Times went to press. At its May 12 meeting, the advisory council will hear from members of the public about the renovation and the controversial Measure A-22 fire tax.

"As a member of the [council], I am not saying that anyone is against it. We want to get the public's input, and use that to form our opinions and recommendations," Dury said. "As a resident of Oceano, I am not understanding why we are allowing private citizens to fly into our airport, use a campground that's basically free, ... $15 a night, that the public can't even access, on taxpayer property."

Courtney Johnson, the county's director of airports, told New Times that the airport operates in a manner similar to private business enterprises, self-supported through user fees and tenant revenue. It doesn't tap into the county general fund. The nightly $15 is an "honor system" camping fee.

"Non-based (transient) aircraft parked overnight, and campground fees are ticketed and/or monitored by operations personnel each morning," Johnson said via email. "The 'honor system' is based on users of the airport placing money/checks inside a transient box at Oceano (or SBP) Airport for services used; additionally, users of the airport can call airport administration and pay via credit card."

The revitalization project has been in the works since 2020, Johnson said, with construction expected to start later this year. Renovation funds will be determined once the environmental and design phases are completed. According to Johnson, the airport has been breaking even over the past few fiscal years.

"The capital projects currently underway at the airport are outside of the normal operating budget; however, we believe the revitalization of this county/community asset will strengthen the Oceano community," she said.

Johnson said that one of the main benefits would be a positive economic boost in terms of businesses, families, and residents traveling to and from the Oceano Airport every day, and subsequently engaging with local hotels, stores, and restaurants.

"Additionally, Oceano Airport helps keep existing employers in a community and attract new ones to our region," Johnson said.

Private pilots aren't the only people using the airport.

"Emergency services such as the California Highway Patrol, Sheriff Aero Squadron, beach rescues, life-flight, and other agencies all utilize the airport to aid both residents and visitors in the area," Johnson said. "With the combined interests, airfields across the nation—like Oceano Airport—generate significant economic impact in their community."

For Dury, the May 11 tour will be her first visit to the airport since she was a preteen when her father's friend took her on a ride in his private plane.

"If I charter someone to fly me out of the airport, or if I rent the biplane ... those are the only two opportunities I would have to walk onto that location. I would never be able to camp there now because I don't own a plane," she said. "We're not making TOT [transient occupancy tax] money off this, we're certainly not making enough money to reinvest back for infrastructure improvements."

—Bulbul Rajagopal


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