The Oceano Advisory Council voted against renovating the local airport’s campground at a recent meeting. One council member advocated for San Luis Obispo (SLO) County, California, to close the airport instead since the area is “land poor.”
Nearly 70-years-old, Oceano Airport was recently criticized because of a county-proposed campground renovation project. It split residents and leaders into two camps, one wanting to preserve a space for private and chartered flights and another questioning the general public’s accessibility to the airport.
At its May 12 meeting, the Oceano Advisory Council also seemed divided, but a 3-2 vote recommending against campground renovation prevailed, according to a report.
“We didn’t vote that we don’t want the renovations anymore, but we don’t want the airport anymore because we’re land poor,” Allene Villa, the advisory council’s chair, said.
The advisory council’s concerns regarding the renovation include worries about the negative impact of artificial areas on the environment, flooding, and runoff from the parking lot without proper drainage.
They are also concerned about the large parking lot that remains primarily unused, only active during airport community events.
“The basis for the decision is that these county-owned 60 acres, which comprise the Oceano Airport and campground, could be repurposed for greater benefit to the community. Oceano is a small disadvantaged community that lacks many fundamental basic needs such as sidewalks, affordable housing, adequate recreational area, businesses, etc. It also lacks large vacant lots in which to construct and accommodate these needs,” the advisory council’s recommendation to the county said.
“Currently, this airport serves a few privileged individuals with little economic or social benefits to the community at large. Repurposing this airport area would provide 60 acres to help construct affordable housing, businesses, and recreational areas our community needs. It is these facts that led the majority of the council to deny this project in its entirety.”
The lack of ASA-compliant facilities at the campground also stood out as a significant issue. Last May 12, Villa visited the campground with some council members, saying she found the scarce crammed and direly needed improvement.
“It does need to be updated. The bathrooms are not ADA-compliant; they look like they’re 30 to 40 years old. I didn’t see any ramps or bars. The parking lot needs to be redone,” she said.
Advisory Council Member-At-Large April Dury repeated Villa’s comments at the meeting. Along with council members Villa and Charles Varni, Dury voted against the campground renovation. She conversed with private pilots in the meeting that supported the renovation.
“You fly places … you get to write it off as a tax deduction. I get no benefit whatsoever from this airport,” Dury said at the meeting. “You guys have a vested interest when it comes to this local airport that our community members don’t get a benefit from … Oceano’s land poor, but clearly, you guys have demonstrated that we’re private plane-rich.”
Advisory Council Member Bonnie Ernst who voted in favor of campground renovation, said the restoration’s proposed budget is $1.8 million, which some council members found too expensive. She wanted to have the campground renovated, also suggesting some expansions.
“I walk past there a lot, and I just do not see the usage of it. I’m wondering if there’s any way to design the fencing so that the public can come in and be a part of it, especially for bicyclists?” she said at the meeting.
Villa said she wanted to see “a little bit of everything” if the airport was repurposed. She added that Oceano needs a recreational area, and the open space from the airport could result in a soccer field, barbecue zones, and regular campsites.
The SLO County Board of Supervisors has the final say in campground renovation and the airport’s future.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass anyway because, in reality, Lynn Compton, who is still our supervisor, has been a strong supporter of the airport,” Villa said. “The supervisors are not supposed to be political, but they are, so they’re probably gonna go ahead with it.”
This article originally appeared on New Times SLO.