Coastal Commission to Hear MB-Cayucos Bike Route

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

June 6, 2024

San Luis Obispo County could be another baby step closer to building a dedicated bike path from Morro Bay to Cayucos, one that will have a grand view of the beach and Pacific Ocean, while keeping cyclists and pedestrians safe from Hwy 1 traffic.

The so-called Cayucos-Morro Bay Connector Project (Connector) goes before the Coastal Commission at its Thursday June 13 meeting in Morro Bay, and if they approve the Coastal Development Permit, SLO County can then seek other approvals it needs.

According to the Commission’s staff report, the Connector is “a 12-foot wide, 1.25-mile long asphalt trail on top of approximately 6 inches of compacted aggregate base, including five free span bridges that are 12-feet wide. The largest bridge would cross Toro Creek and would be approximately 200-feet long, while the others are over drainage ways and are less than 80-feet long.”

There’s one other tricky spot on the Connector’s route — a small flat area that used to be where a pier landed back when Chevron used to tanker oil at the Estero Marine Terminal. The terminal was in operation from 1929 to 1999, first by Standard Oil, then Chevron. Texaco/Mobil also used the facility for many years before it closed. The pier collapsed in a storm in 1983 and was never replaced.

Chevron spent many years cleaning up the old terminal, and over the past several years, has been selling it off parcel by parcel, including about a dozen small ranches along Toro Creek Road. The Cayucos Sanitary District built its new treatment plant on two of those parcels.  

Some of the parcels have been purchased by conservation groups and donated to SLO County for future parklands. The City of Morro Bay got the beach portion, which is prized for being an off-leash dog-friendly beach.

The Connector is planned for the strip of dune bluffs that separates the highway from the beach. It has special concerns for the Coastal Commission.

“Coastal Act issues raised by the proposed project,” the report said, “include the fact that the project area is subject to coastal hazards, includes some dune habitat features just below the bluffs, and is in a location of known archeological resources.”

But having a dedicated, safe pathway for cyclists is apparently a good trade off. “Those issues are balanced,” the report said, “by the fact that the project will provide a safe, separated, and user friendly multi-modal coastal trail between the two coastal communities. 

“The project has been envisioned for several decades, and should result in a substantial benefit to area residents and visitors, including to provide for broad views of and access to this impressive stretch of beaches, backing up to Highway 1 and the undeveloped foothills.”

“The project,” the report continued, “also includes related amenities such as public parking, pullouts, interpretive signage, and other features making it friendly and accessible to the walking and biking public.”

Just where that public parking will be is one of the problems still to be ironed out. Another is what will happen when the trail empties out on the Morro Bay side? A group of homeowners on Toro Lane, a narrow public street that runs from Yerba Buena Avenue to the parking lot at the North Point Natural Area, has sued over the project.

The Connector also needs something else the Commission hasn’t thought very highly of — a retaining wall, or in less precise terms “armoring” of the coast.

“A small portion of the proposed project,” the report said, “would rely on new armoring in the form of new retaining walls to provide stability. This southern portion is located in a narrow pinch point between the beach and the highway, and the County determined that it was the least environmentally damaging feasible alternative to provide uninterrupted coastal access.”

In the report’s listing of special conditions, this is further hashed out. “Approximately 650-linear feet of retaining walls are proposed due to the narrow width of the bluff in this location, and would be wrapped in geofabric reinforced with a 1-inch layer of concrete and covered with a rock veneer, or poured in place with the outside facing wall formed and filled with colored concrete to blend in with the surrounding dune.”

Not all is peachy with the project, the Commission wants the pathway moved if it becomes threatened due to climate change.

“The project also includes conditions waiving the right to additional armoring and requiring removal/relocation inland over time in response to erosion threats,” the report said.

The CDP has numerous other special conditions, including several provisions on what to do if the construction unearths Native American artifacts including human remains. The entire Estero Bay is a known Native American archaeological area.

The permit requires the County work with local tribes, notifying them before any ground disturbance, so they can send monitors if they so desire. The project has to have a qualified archaeologist on site during construction, too.

Should the Coastal Commission approve the CDP, it would be but one of the permitting steps the project needs. But it would be an important one, as the CDP defines the project so other agencies know exactly what they’re being asked to permit.

Elizabeth Kavanaugh, the County planner overseeing the project, said, “Once we get the ‘conditions of approval’ from the Coastal Commission’s approval [fingers crossed] then we will start working on the USFW [U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service], [Regional] Water Board and other resource agency permits we need.”

The Commission meets at the Inn at Morro Bay on State Park Road, Wednesday-Friday, June 12-14. The Morro Bay-Cayucos Connector project will be heard Thursday, Kavanaugh said likely sometime that afternoon. The meetings will be streamed on starting at 9 a.m.

There is also another issue that day of extreme importance to Estero Bay News readers — the possible approval of the Los Osos Community Plan — and possible start of lifting the town’s building moratorium after some 35 years.

If history is any indicator of the future, past meetings dealing with the sewer/moratorium/growth in Los Osos have played to packed houses and gone many hours of emotional testimony. 

That said, just when the Connector permit item comes up is hard to predict.

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