Recently, at one of the South County Chambers of Commerce meetings, members seemed to be rallying in support of an individual member who claimed he had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in business since the beaches were closed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs).
Meanwhile, parking lots that usually had been nearly empty at the end of Pier Avenue in Oceano and Grand Avenue in Grover Beach are overflowing even on weekdays, as hundreds of people throng to beaches now that they are closed to vehicle use. In other words, vehicle use seems to deter families from using the beach.
If a gang of thugs, drug dealers, and rapists hung out on the beach, families would probably stop going to the beach. Dealing drugs is a lucrative business, and the dealers do spend their money on nice things like fancy cars and eating out. If a gang of thugs, drug dealers, and rapists were somehow put out of business, would the Chambers of Commerce run to the aid of the thugs? Now, I'm not saying that OHV users are thugs, drug dealers, and rapists.
In the old days, Pismo Beach was kind of a raunchy town, and driving on the beach was the "in" thing to do in Pismo. However, when Pismo Beach closed their vehicle ramp to the beach in the 1970s, the town changed. More tourists came and enjoyed what Pismo Beach had to offer. The number of visitor-serving facilities significantly increased. There are now attractions at all price ranges, and using the beach is free. Pismo Beach is a safe, vibrant beach town with visitor-serving activities throughout the year.
People come for a certain activity and stay awhile, enjoying more than they thought they would. For example, come for a beach walk, discover the butterfly preserve, and stay for lunch. Enjoy a Dixieland music weekend and shop at the outlet center before leaving town. Come for a wedding and return for their anniversary. I could go on.
Most of the people filling the parking lots to use the beach buy stuff, maybe just a snack, beach toys, or sunscreen at first. Knowing they can have a nice time at the beach, they probably will come back. They might stay for dinner and a show at the Great American Melodrama. Grover Beach has done a nice job highlighting the sidewalks on Grand Avenue between Fourth Street and the beach. Out-of-towners might browse in the shops on Grand Avenue—Ron's Nursery, the bead shop, maybe buy some bread or pastries at Grover Beach Sourdough, catch lunch at The Rib Line or Station Grill, and watch the trains go by. They might try golf at the nine-hole course near Finn's or maybe do a little wine tasting.
Come to think of it, I have never seen an OHV rig parked near a business on Grand Avenue or anywhere near Sylvester's in Oceano. I've only seen them buying gas before they make the beeline home to the valley.
So let's get real. OHV riding is not a coastal dependent activity. It is damaging to the fragile ecology of the dunes. Driving to the OHV riding area has made the beach unusable by people who want to just enjoy the beach. Would you let your kids play in traffic? There are many other places in California where OHVers can ride and have a good time.
Did it ever occur to the Chambers of Commerce that Oceano and Grover Beach could become more prosperous like Pismo with more people using the beach instead of supporting an activity that drives them away? Δ
Evelyn Delany gave her two cents from South SLO County. Write a response for publication by emailing a letter or commentary to.