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Jun 19

Can you imagine the Ritz-Carlton at Fossil Point?

Contemplating the prospect that Avila Beach could or should aspire to something greater borders on a fool’s errand for all kinds of reasons.

Yet that is the spot we find ourselves in now, these dozen or so years since much of Front Street was razed to scoop out all the oil and tainted sand.

In the wake of the Unocal cleanup, Avila has come back stronger and better than ever — no longer funky but eminently more visitable with features and resources that never would have been realized otherwise.

Still, many businesspeople there seem unsatisfied and wring their hands over the difficulties they have making a living year-round, saying, in effect, that aside from the beach, there’s no “there” there.

That is as it is and probably should be. Here’s why:

Space limitations: Avila is probably too small a town to accommodate any kind of transcending tourist draw, the kind that would turn the area into something more than a three-month destination and, as local businessman Michael Kidd put it, give people a reason to visit on a Tuesday in January.

The fact is, the “Tuesday in January” crowd would only come for something utterly unique and dramatic.

Think Hearst Castle or the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the kind of indoor-outdoor, one-of-a-kind experience that would compel people to plan vacations around it. Or at least think elite hotel and conference center, to possibly lure business crowds in the off-season.

The downside of such an attraction is that whatever crowds it might draw in the winter you could multiply by 10 in the summer, a prospect that is impossible with Avila’s limited physical space, lodging and amenities.

Probably with Avila, we’d be better off just hoping to draw in the “Saturday in January” crowd. Forget Tuesdays.

Access and traffic: There are only so many cars little two-lane Avila Beach Road can handle, only so many parking spots in this diminutive town.

As it is on warm summer weekends now, you might find yourself hoofing it to the beach from several blocks away, Boogie Boards, beach bags and coolers in tow.

In addition, by the very nature of its removed location, Avila already asks visitors for a certain level of commitment, meaning there are a particular number who just won’t want to travel that far off Highway 101 unless the side trip is truly compelling.

Even if they did have a reason to come, would it create unbearable traffic and clogged, unpassable streets?

Available land: Say we could somehow solve the traffic and parking issue, maybe add a few hotels and whatnot. If we could create the infrastructure to support a major tourist draw, where would it go?

There just isn’t much available, with the exception of one notable spot: Fossil Point, the expansive and stunning blufftop property that was formerly home to Unocal’s tank farm.

This is a knock-’em-dead location, to be sure, with all kinds of marketable potential.

Its perch atop the hill overlooking the curve of the bay and its seaside panorama is unlike anywhere else on our county’s coast, looking out over steep cliffs at a south-facing beach with a pretty harbor, sailboats and hills in the distance.

It is not hard to imagine what a luxury hotel might look like on this property.

It’s not even that hard to imagine what a Chumash cultural center might look like.

Or even an amphitheater carved into the hillside. Imagine all those musical events moving from the grass at the Avila Beach Golf Resort to the hill above town with its sunset views?

All would be interesting options that could add a level of desirability above what’s in Avila now without reaching theme park levels.

The problem is, I see very little chance for anything overly ambitious happening on this property because the way the discussions are going now, there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen and one of them is the Emeril Lagasse of California planning: the Coastal Commission.

The only difference is, when Coastal Commmissioners say “Bam!” it’s usually in the form of a hammer to the head of any private property owner hoping to do something productive with his land.

You want to sell the plot to Marriott to build a five-star hotel? Bam! Not on our coastline, you won’t!

Not that I’m against the Coastal Commission. It’s a hugely valuable agency that has protected our shoreline from commercial abuses, but it also presents a huge hurdle for legitimate landowners looking to develop their property in a reasonable way.

Would the Ritz-Carlton at Fossil Point be a legitimate use? Maybe, maybe not.

I think it’s worth discussing, but I bet the chatter won’t even get close to that idea with surveys showing open space leading the way as the No. 1 public desire for the land.

The problem, of course, is open space won’t bring in the “Tuesday in January” tourist dollars.

And who will step forward to pay current owner Chevron for non-revenue-generating open space?

In the real world, I don’t see anything productive happening to that property for years — maybe decades — into the future, if ever.

Which leaves us back not entirely where we started, with pretty little Avila Beach, better than it ever was but maybe not as good as it ever could be.

What do you think? Share your thoughts here.

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4 comments

  1. Roger Overton

    This may be sort of an absurd notion, but I’m actually sort of content with the way it is right now.

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    Tuffy Gracioso

  3. micheal kidd

    WHo is Joe? and why do we care? i was minding my own business and poof ..My name showed up on quote from ? Where? i don’t know on blog from internet space called WTF is Joetopia? ..To think i have traveled all this way to be quoted by guy never heard of on blog called .. called Joetopia ???
    i have coffee bar called JoeMOMMAS but no blog.. so i will give Joe whoever he is? a couple real quotes …. What i said to tribune as part of two hour conversation was” Avila is at crossroads of having businesses but no way to support them ,so they will die unless we find a way to surive on rainy Tuesday in January.” Alot folks like Joe say okay let them die and thats okay, unless its good friend that lost everything trying to provide community grocery store at Avila grocery .and next time they come they say Joe …i wish i could get something to eat?or cup” JOE”
    So Avila is three month market with merchants trying to surive on year basis .Lets cry about it or comeup with one good idea Joe instead of just crying..
    Best use fossil point probably is a Casino bring 1,000 wage earner jobs central coast with benefits ,would take care of alleged Chumash connection and be year round generator of locals and Pismo tourists .

    Unfortunately won’t happen, what will happen is Chevron will present a development plan with major hotel on it .It is zoned correctly(remember its been zonedcommercial (oil refinery) and if they Chevron cntinues to owns it or leases it ,but doesn’t sell it ,they don’t have to cleanup site (kinda hard on bedrock anyway ) particularly if they self finance it whichas big oil company aybe only one can ..
    .They will offer “open space’ (alot contaimed land) as tradeoffs,with much needed town employee parking and shuttles (on busy day we have 200 employees and 900 spaces).
    Chevron views their land as long term hold they can bank land forever,or just wait for this generation to die and do nothing, or hire development director and will be his project for next 15 yrs and yes Joe it will get approved ..see bacara resort in Santa barbara built on same coast line on commercial oil land ..
    Most smart money is that if they have resistance they will make comprise offer to build out and continue the Bluffs luxury housing street from Shell beach and gain as many as 40-50 luxury home sites that they can get 500k-1m each .
    And than “trade” donate rest site and Avila side as open space land in land consevacory much as PGE put otherside of Bay in land consevactory forever .

    And I’m okay with that trade .we get unbuilt view of Fossil Point on Avila side ,they get return on their investment .

    For Avila longterm future most of us are not betting on Fossil Point, but believe in long term potential of Bob Jones trail extensions .We have chance to create a 40-50 mile bike and walking pathway from Avila to San Luis than down los Osos valley road to Montana de oreo state Park and than back over recently acquired cherry canyon ranch to Avila creating a world class scenic multi use pathway .HUGE boost of year round tourism on bikes used by both locals and out town visitiors ..And its Green project we all can live with without adding another car/or hotel to area ..How about that Joe whoever you are?
    Green project for great town without ever changing foot print ..those 300 of us that actually live here , thats what we want JOE….
    Avila is the locals beach.. and those of 350 of us that live here, take that seriously on behalf of everyone between Paso and Orcutt ,that visits our town , just wish you would pickup your garbage Joe.when you do visit ….

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