SLO County wants to allow camping on private property

This campsite was seen on private ranch land in Cambria over Labor Day weekend 2020.

This campsite was seen on private ranch land in Cambria over Labor Day weekend 2020.

County supervisors plan to make changes soon that would make it easier for rural and even urban landowners to add rental campsites and even small campgrounds to their properties.

Before county planners can begin drafting the complicated ordinance changes supervisors have asked them to make, however, the council must figure out how to pay for the extra duties. According to the board’s 3-2 vote on Jan. 25, it’s likely they’ll consider their funding options before June, when the new budget cycle begins.

Campground revisions and minor ordinance changes affecting two other industries could potentially add nearly $970,000 to the county’s budget this year, according to a report presented to council on June 25.

Supervisor John Peschong lobbied for revisions to the campsite to be made as soon as possible. Planners estimate these could take 18 months or more because the issues are so complex.

After the verbal wrangling that preceded the supervisors’ final 3-2 vote, supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg described the debate, which was mostly about when to redo the campground rules, as “painful…(but fair ) wait until you get the bill!”

The new expenditures would cover staff time, related services, supplies and consultants. The planning department should hire new staff to do the job, according to planning director Trevor Keith.

The other two items included in the package were defined as minor “cleanup” changes to the ordinances controlling small urban wineries and craft distilleries.

Camping

Few members of the public spoke about the camping issue on January 25, but the topic continues to generate comments and emails online.

When supervisors reviewed all possible new priority projects in November, some people, including many rural landowners, said they wanted the rules relaxed. They hope it will be easier, faster and cheaper to obtain permits to set up campgrounds and other facilities on vacant land and other private property.

Some ranchers and farmers explained how the additional income from campsites could help make their operations more financially viable, helping future generations maintain their family lands and farming lifestyle during these difficult times. They also said occupancy taxes collected at each site would help the county’s bottom line.

Others have expressed serious concerns about setting up campsites and facilities in urban areas near homes, in neighborhoods, or in/near forests and other fire-prone locations.

It was also suggested that planning and supervisors consider different rules for different areas of the county, such as vacation rental ordinances and overnight parking regulations.

For example, this option could separate inland county areas from coastal areas, with the latter receiving additional regulatory oversight from the California Coastal Commission.

There is an informally proposed draft ordinance not prepared by the county that suggests changes that would allow Hipcamp-style private camping and permanent campsites on private property and possibly even in or near certain urban neighborhoods. However, some county staff said it was likely that planners could not build on this project, but would have to prepare their own.

the hip camp The website lists and facilitates the rental of private campsites, similar to how AirBnb connects people to vacation rental homes and similar accommodations.

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Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of North Shore SLO County since 1981, first as a columnist and then as a journalist. During her career, she has been a bakery owner, public relations manager, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer. She’s been a Cambria resident for over four decades, and if it’s in town, Kathe knows it.

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