Morro Bay allows RV campsites near the beach, Morro Rock


The town of Morro Bay has extended controversial pilot program which allows limited camping for RVs near its waterfront.

Morro Bay City Council voted unanimously on February 9 to continue the program until September 30, with the intention of using all six initially designated locations except two if details can be worked out.

The program will allow a total of 23 to 25 RV parking spaces between the various locations, with some modifications to the original plan.

Many residents have complained about the RV camping program, saying campers are loud, leave litter behind and disturb natural environments, especially when staying in prominent areas nearby. Morro Rock.

“Morro Bay’s greatest asset and attraction is the natural beauty,” wrote Morro Bay residents John Collette and Martin Gottlieb. a joint letter to the board. “The inclusion of recreational vehicles in the various locations proposed would have a direct and negative impact on this natural beauty and, in some cases, on the peace and quiet of residents in their homes. “

But RV camping can provide a much needed new source of income for the Morro Bay Port Department, said port manager Eric Endersby, noting that the agency faces a tight budget and aging infrastructure.

“The demands have increased and our income has really not kept up,” Endersby said. “We counted as many as 19,000 cars visiting the Rock in a weekend and it is expensive to manage. It is costly to maintain our port facilities, respond to emergencies and provide general upkeep of our natural areas. It all adds up.

Endersby said the town will continue to charge $ 65 or $ 75 per night for RV camping, which could increase prices in prime areas near Morro Rock.

The RV camping program is expected to generate between $ 100,000 and $ 185,000 in net income per year to support the port service’s $ 2 million annual budget. The city expects the amount to increase from year to year if a permanent program is adopted.

“We all love the port, but our port facilities are falling apart,” City Councilor Robert “Red” Davis said at the February 9 meeting. “For me, it’s all about the money. I’m not sure I could support the camping program if our port fund wasn’t in such dire straits.

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A map shows three of the RV campsites currently being tested near the harbor and beach at Morro Bay. Town of Morro Bay

Where is RV camping allowed in Morro Bay?

The city began allowing RV camping near the waterfront in September, via an emergency coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission.

This permit is valid until the end of March. The council voted on Feb. 9 to allow the program to continue for a full year, but the Coast Commission will have to grant the extension.

The city’s original program called for six sites for RV camping near the waterfront.

Prior to the February 9 meeting, the city was using three locations – including sites in the triangular parking lot near the Maritime Museum and along the Morro Creek RV near the Harbor Department storage yard.

The council also elected to allow recreational vehicles to park in two spaces along Coleman Drive near the basketball courts, if the vehicles can be visibly and physically separated from the adjacent Morro Bay Harborwalk.

The Coleman Drive site is the most popular, as well as the most controversial, due to its proximity to Morro Rock and the path taken by walkers, cyclists and others visiting the area, Endersby said.

Council will continue to use each of these, incorporating some modifications to the Coleman Drive site, while using a planned area in a public parking lot near 456 Embarcadero in place of a planned site in the public ramp parking lot. launching.

In response to complaints from residents, City Council decided on February 9 to remove or change some of the sites initially available for RV camping, such as its Target Rock location, adjacent to Morro Rock to the south and facing the bay.

The council has also banned motorhome parking in an area known as ‘the pit’ which is adjacent to the Morro Dunes RV Park.

But the city does allow motorhomes to park in two spaces in the Morro Rock parking lot north of the monument, both offering spectacular ocean views.

Endersby said he had contacted the Northern Chumash Tribal Council for advice on allowing RVs to be parked in these spaces. The tribal council regards Morro Rock as a sacred landmark, and the town is hoping to gain the group’s voluntary consent, Endersby said.

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An aerial photo shows RV campsites (numbered) near the Morro Bay Maritime Museum. Town of Morro Bay

The city pleads for the need for motorhome camping

According to Endersby, income from RV camping will help cover a multitude of needs, including updating aging urban infrastructure.

The port’s fund is balanced but there is little money left for repairs to infrastructure such as docks, toilets and walkways, he said.

It has been partly funded in recent years by $ 250,000 in annual tax revenue from the old Morro Bay power plant, which closed in 2014.

Port management depends mainly on Embarcadero rental income to support each other. The agency provides emergency response and maintains waterfront washrooms, parks, boardwalk, beach access areas, and parking. It also manages open spaces and promotes environmental stewardship.

“We have the same number of people in the department as 25 years ago, and we are trying to meet a much higher demand,” Endersby said.

“If this port is doomed because we can’t maintain it,” City Councilor Jeff Heller asked on Feb. 9, “what will happen to the city?

Endersby said the city has hired a consultant to study the viability of requiring paid parking in the city’s commercial areas and on the waterfront, which could also contribute to the port department’s revenue.

This report has not yet been made public, but Endersby expects it to be presented to city council in the coming months.

In the summer of 2020, Morro Bay increased the fines for illegal RV camping from $ 60 to $ 250 “in response to the unprecedented number of RV campers illegally camping at various locations in town,” according to a report from municipal staff.

“This (RV camping pilot program) gave people a place to send them,” Endersby said. “This program offers a unique experience, which is one of the things that we market. “

Endersby said the Morro Rock parking lot was crowded for many weekend days in 2019, adding that the coronavirus pandemic had led to an increase in activity in 2020 as many sought out socially distant outdoor activities.

“It’s the new normal,” Endersby said. “It’s really remarkable compared to 20 years ago. Morro Bay has been discovered. Our marketing is working.

Davis said extending the RV camping program through September will give the city more time to assess it over the summer and determine if any changes are needed.

Although the city has a temporary permit from the California Coastal Commission to allow RV camping, it is expected to obtain a permanent permit to continue long-term RV camping.

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Morro Bay City Council has expanded an RV camping program, waterfront campsites are all in sight of the old powerhouse. David Middlecamp

Morro Bay residents respond to campers

While the program is economically beneficial, it is not universally appreciated by residents of Morro Bay.

Dozens of people have written to city council expressing their displeasure with the presence of motorhomes in the normally peaceful beach area.

“When I walk the boardwalk or stroll through Tidelands Park (which I do several times a week), I expect to be in a beautiful, serene and natural environment. ” Colleen Ray, Morro Bay resident wrote. “I don’t want to listen to the generators running or smell their fumes, and I can’t imagine the visitors either. “

In another letter, SLO County Resident Kelly Lewis noted, “Please don’t destroy our open spaces by turning them into campsites. I grew up here and loved the way we did a fair job protecting the nature of our small town. What attracts tourists to Morro Bay is the open spaces. You will destroy us if we turn our city into a campground.

But Jeremiah O’Brien, a member of the city’s port advisory board, highlighted the city’s challenges with maintaining the port department and its need for funding in a letter to the board.

O’Brien said the city’s decision to allow RV camping near the waterfront was the result of many hours of discussion to find funding solutions.

“The port is truly the jewel of the central coast, and we must protect it while keeping it the beautiful region that it is,” he said. “At the end of the day, they need our support and our money, so we have to resolve this dilemma.

“The people who wrote are concerned and hopefully will find or help with fundraising ideas. We all love Morro Bay and need to help the port. We don’t want to upset people, but we have to solve this problem. “

This story was originally published February 25, 2021 5:00 a.m.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly on K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.


Sally J. Minick

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