Will the Hearst Corporation Get Its Way with the San Luis Obispo Coast?

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

The Hearst Corporation still owns 77,000 acres along the coast in northern San Luis Obispo County despite their donation of Hearst Castle to state parks in 1958. While the Hearsts have been praised for keeping this land in a natural state, this has not always been their intention. In the 1 960s the Hearst Corporation announced plans to build a city of 65,000 near the tiny coastal village of San Simeon. Although that plan was scrapped, in 1980 the San Luis Obispo board of supervisors incorporated into the county’s general plan the Hearst Corporation’s “scaled down” wishes for San Simeon Point. It was to be a vast tourist facility with one motel and four lodges that together totaled 900 rooms, plus eight restaurants, an RV park, two eighteen-hole golf courses, two shopping centers, boat docks, and an employee housing complex.

In 1997 the board of supervisors adapted the county Local Coastal Plan (LCP) to accommodate a new Hearst development plan. That plan includes 650 lodging units at four different sites including a dude ranch, one golf course, a convention center, restaurants and shops. In January 1998 this version of Hearst’s gargantuan development came before the Coastal Commission. Hundreds attended the meeting to voice their concerns. After a long, heated day of debate, the Commission unanimously rejected the county’s LCP update and supported staff recommendations that the development be scaled back to 350 units clustered at one site, that the golf course be rejected, and that environmental constraints, most notably the scarcity of water, be taken into account. As the staff report pointed out, the proposed development site sits upon “an unspoiled shoreline with hundreds of coves, dozens of uncrowded beaches, rocky headlands and clean blue water stretching to a far horizon unmarked by oil rigs or air pollution, one of California’s premier natural wonders.”

As this book went to press in April 2000, the San Luis Obispo County government was once again revising its LCP as the CCC requested. While the entire plan is complex, the most controversial element involves zoning for the Hearst Ranch. So far the County Planning Department has generated drafts of six planning options for the Hearst property, ranging from a status quo plan that would keep the ranch entirely agricultural to a full development plan reinstating the proposed 650-lodging-unit development, with a vast range of choices in between. Several of the six options include a route for the California Coastal Trail across part of or most of the Hearst Ranch west of Highway 1. At the very least, a bike lane will be built along the shoulder of Highway I through the Hearst property.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume Two: Monterey to Mexico by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols