Mention the Oceano Dunes at a Board of Supervisors meeting, and sand starts to fly.
So it was April 15 when the board discussed a sale of county-owned land in the park to the state, even though the actual vote was about extending negotiations regarding the sale for up to two years.
They approved that effort, 4-0, with Katcho Achadjian abstaining because he owns gas stations in the area, but the vote followed hours of testimony from folks who alternatively sought to describe the area as a lawless, ecology-destroying deathtrap or as a family-friendly, well-policed and affordable recreation area.
State Parks has offered $4.8 million to the county to buy some 584 acres of county land within the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Negotiations over terms have been going on for about a year, and the state's lease with the county is set to expire.
The area receives more than two million visitors a year and is the only state park in California where driving on the beach is allowed.
Andrew Christie of the local Sierra Club used the supervisors' forum to announce that the group is going forward with a threatened lawsuit against the California Department of Parks and Recreation to compel it to make about one-third of the land off-limits to vehicles. The lawsuit says a 1984 county land use agreement declared the county land as a buffer zone. That assertion, though, has been disputed by Dunes vechile proponents, and a separate lawsuit has been filed by the group Friends of the Oceano Dunes.
Supervisors and staff said the delay has happened because the issues involved, ranging from liability concerns to the fact that some 42 century-old small lots within the park are owned privately, make negotiations complex.
"I want to assure the public that we haven't been goofing off," Supervisor Jerry Lenthall said of the yearlong negotiations. "You're just going to have to trust us that we're working very hard on this."