Oceano could soon be home to two separate community advisory councils: one with members who unanimously support the elimination of off-roading in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) and one with members who are adamantly against it.
- File Photo By Steve E. Miller
- ROOM FOR TWO? At its upcoming meeting on June 8, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a resolution recognizing the formation of a new community advisory council, the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano.
At its upcoming meeting on June 8, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a resolution recognizing the formation of a new community advisory council, the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano. The group, according to a county staff report, first formed and requested recognition in April.
"We are a diverse group of interested citizens and business owners in the historic and proud community of Oceano," the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano wrote in an April 18 letter to 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton, who represents Oceano. "The recent decisions made by the California Coastal Commission, which profoundly impacts Oceano, as well as other long unresolved issues, require a responsive, locally informed voice."
The letter is signed by founding members Linda Austin, president of the Oceano Community Services District; Adam Verdin, co-owner of Old Juan's Cantina; Marios Pougioukas, owner of the Rock and Roll Diner; Barney Foster, a recent failed candidate for the Oceano Community Services District; Gina McMahon; and Jonathan Rodriguez.
To members of the already existing council, the Oceano Advisory Council, this looks like a strategy on Compton's part to silence the voices of those who disagree with her.
"Believe me, we are going to speak out," said Allene Villa, chair of the Oceano Advisory Council. "We're not going to take it, and I believe we're going to be victorious."
The Oceano Advisory Council has been meeting regularly since it was officially recognized by the Board of Supervisors in 1996. Community advisory councils don't have any real voting power, and their members aren't always chosen through an election process, but, once recognized, they have to follow strict regulations and offer insight about various local issues to the county.
Community advisory councils usually receive a small amount of funding from the Board of Supervisors, although the board isn't required to fund them.
In April, Villa said the Oceano Advisory Council sent a line-by-line budget request to Compton's office detailing funding needs through December 2022. The request, which totaled $4,832, included items like office supplies, website maintenance, and a Zoom contract. The most expensive request was a one-year contract with Survey Monkey—at a cost of $2,700—for a proposed community needs assessment regarding the future of Pier Avenue.
The Oceano Advisory Council never heard back from Compton's office on the budget, Villa said, which she thought was strange. Members even asked about the request during public comment at Board of Supervisors meetings in May. But when Villa heard about the new advisory council, which she said consists of ardent off-roading supporters, everything became clear.
Villa suspects Compton will try to put most, if not all, of her funds toward the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano, effectively disbanding the long-running Oceano Advisory Council. Villa called the move "undemocratic."
But Supervisor Compton said the formation of the new Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano wasn't her idea. She said she's received numerous calls and complaints about members of the existing Oceano Advisory Council—who are unanimously in support of the Coastal Commission's decision to ban off-roading in the Oceano Dunes SVRA—refusing to consider the views and opinions of those in Oceano's business and off-roading community.
So when several community members asked if she'd support the formation of another advisory council, she said she thought it sounded like a fine idea. She likes to hear from both sides, she said, and the creation of one advisory council doesn't equate to the elimination of another.
"I think it's a good thing," she said. "The more input the better."
Although Compton wouldn't say whether she planned to approve the current advisory council's most recent budget request, she doesn't plan to cut off all of its future funding.
"So if either group brings good projects forward I'm likely to fund them," she said.
Still, Charles Varni, vice chair of the Oceano Advisory Council, remains staunchly opposed to the formation of another advisory council. Varni said the current council has taken pains to get input from the business and off-roading community in Oceano. He personally contacted some of the members of the new council earlier this year when the existing council was recruiting new members in hopes they'd apply. So he takes issue with Compton's characterization of the Oceano Advisory Council as being biased and unwilling to listen.
"That's an absolute lie," he said. Δ