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Residents aren't happy with the Morro Bay Waterfront RV camping program

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Morro Bay's waterfront recreational vehicle camping pilot program, established to generate more revenue for the city's Harbor Department, is getting an extension beyond its four-month trial period, but some residents aren't happy about it.

WATERFRONT CAMPING Morro Bay's newest Waterfront RV camping pilot program is getting an extension beyond its four-month trial period, allowing users to book spaces until Sept. 30, 2021. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE CITY OF MORRO BAY
  • Image Courtesy Of The City Of Morro Bay
  • WATERFRONT CAMPING Morro Bay's newest Waterfront RV camping pilot program is getting an extension beyond its four-month trial period, allowing users to book spaces until Sept. 30, 2021.

In an email to the City Council, resident Alex Beattie said the project is clearly about money.

"The Harbor [Department] needs (?) money and the RV park is one way of getting it. An unanswered question is what is the best way of getting the money. I don't think that degrading the spirit and environment of Morro Bay is the best to do it. This is sort of like 'paying to pollute'; I also don't think that the residents of the city need to endure the displeasure that the RV park would cause for the sake of out-of-town visitors. Losses to the character of our city will far outweigh any revenue gains that would accrue. There are better ways," Beattie's email read.

The Morro Bay City Council approved the limited RV camping program, which began in September 2020, as part of its Rock Solid Together Economic and Financial Recovery Plan.

According to city staff, the Waterfront RV program had the potential to bring in revenue, and COVID-19 pandemic travel habits are leaning towards RV, camping, and outdoor activities.

The Morro Bay Community Development Department obtained emergency permitting from the California Coastal Commission last summer with the understanding that if the city wished to make the program permanent, a regular coastal development permit might be needed.

Although the emergency permit covered six sites, the Harbor Department ultimately implemented the program at three locations: Coleman Park, Morro Creek/storage yard, and the Maritime Museum. Three camp spaces were established at Coleman, nine at the Morro Creek site, and seven at the Maritime Museum site. A Coleman spot costs $75 a night, and a night at Morro Creek or the Maritime Museum costs $65.

According to a staff report, during the first month of operation, several weekends sold out all 19 spaces. As fall became winter, travel and bookings significantly decreased, although the Coleman spaces were regularly booked.

Though the pilot program has largely received support from users, residents, and waterfront businesses, it's also received criticism from citizens who believe the program is inappropriate and clashes with the "small-town" feel of the city.

Morro Bay resident Frank Merrill emailed his opposition to the council saying, "If you are sensitive to your surroundings, you'd have to admit that RVs parking along the walk out to Morro Rock somewhat spoil the natural beauty on the scene."

COVID-19 restrictions halted the program in December 2020. In three months, it generated $32,200 in revenue. After start-up and operating expenses, the Harbor Fund's net revenue on the project was approximately $6,000 to $11,000.

Staff anticipate that year-round operation could bring in $100,000 in gross revenues during the first year and $135,000 to $185,000 in subsequent years—more with additional sites.

Harbor Director Eric Endersby said he understands the concerns that citizens have, but the Harbor Department's current expenses outweigh its revenue. Endersby said that when harbor staff answer calls for a missing child, someone falling off their paddleboard, directions, or cleaning, it comes at a cost. The Harbor Department is scrounging up funds to pay for a harbor patrol boat from Port San Luis because it can't afford a new one, and it also needs to replace some lifeguard towers.

The council voted to extend the pilot program to Sept. 30, 2021.

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