New R.V.s at Dillon Beach Resort draw criticism, trigger permit

06/06/2019

Complaints from residents have prompted the California Coastal Commission to review recent changes at Dillon Beach Resort, where the new owner has replaced 12 R.V.s with tiny-home-style R.V.s to be rented on a nightly basis. Although the resort is compliant with its county use permit, residents counter that the new structures block coastal views and that the shift from long-term leases to vacation rentals poses a significant change for the community. 

“Most of the residents are not happy with what’s going on at the resort, in my estimation,” said Tom Lai, the assistant director of Marin County’s Community Development Agency.

The frustration led the county to call a village meeting, held last Friday at Tomales Elementary School. Mr. Lai, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, resort owner Mike Goebel and roughly 50 residents attended. 

One crowd member called the new R.V.s a 25-unit hotel. “These aren’t R.V.s,” he said. “The use has changed.” Another resident said, “They don’t resemble what was there before, except that they’re on wheels.”

Some residents believe the changes conflict with the Dillon Beach Community Plan, which encourages the resort’s buildings to “harmonize with the existing character of Dillon Beach.” The document, certified in 1989, calls for varied design features that create the feeling of a village. Resident Trina Rocine said the new R.V.s have “no aesthetic. They’re not in keeping with the character.”

Mr. Goebel and two partners purchased the 55-acre property, listed at $7 million, in May 2018. At the time, he told residents that his goal was “to breathe new life into the resort. It has a lot of potential and it’s an amazing piece of property. We’re excited to make it more approachable for tourists and locals.” 

The new owners increased rents in the resort’s 25-unit R.V. park by roughly 20 percent last July, citing a need for significant repairs. All but four long-term R.V. tenants left.

The coastal commission is now requiring that the resort apply for an after-the-fact coastal development permit, according to Jeannine Manna, the coastal commission’s regional district manager. As part of the permitting process, the commission is investigating complaints both that the new R.V.s obstruct coastal views and that the resort is improperly managing sand on its privately-owned stretch of Dillon Beach.

Mr. Goebel was surprised about the need for a coastal development permit because he initially dealt with the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which has jurisdiction over all trailer parks in the state. That department looked at whether or not the resort was compliant with a 1969 use permit from the county that allows for 25 R.Vs. The state department considers the use unchanged by the new R.V.s because they are on wheels.

“There’s no issue whether the sites are legal,” said Steve Kinsey, the former county supervisor and coastal commissioner who is working as a planning consultant for the resort. “Everything is in compliance.”

Yet that doesn’t mean the resort won’t have to make changes, now that the coastal commission is reviewing the resort. A main tenet of the coastal commission is to encourage visitors to the shoreline; in that regard, the resort’s development is viewed as a positive because it will draw a wider range of guests, Mr. Kinsey said.

Mr. Goebel is also emphatic that while more visitors will now have access to Dillon Beach, the intensity of use in the R.V.s likely won’t increase. Long-term residents of the park invited friends and family in large groups, but the new R.V.’s will have a two-person limit. “I don’t think the usage would go up any more than what’s been here historically,” he said.

Residents also expressed concern last Friday that the 13.5-foot-tall R.V.s block viewing corridors from Beach Street, which runs along the R.V. park, something the coastal commission will look at. “There was a coastal town feel, and it’s being changed. [The R.V.s are] very large and they obstruct the view,” Eileen Hayes, a resident, said.

Mr. Goebel originally had “no plans to do tiny homes” at the resort, but said the R.V.s are a “very attractive, affordable solution that fits our use permit.” He hopes to make them available in the next month or two, but is holding off on bringing in any more while he completes the coastal commission’s permitting process. He added that he did not maximize the size of the units.

“If the community can be specific about the view impacts they can see, the resort will hear them out,” Mr. Kinsey said.

The coastal commission and the county have also received reports of improper sand management on the beach and its parking lot. Employees regularly use a tractor to clear sand off of the parking lot, Mr. Goebel said. But the coastal commission is concerned that they may have been doing substantial work, creating piles of sand on the beach and near Dillon Creek, beyond the usual maintenance efforts. Mr. Goebel said they push the sand back into the natural dune on the beach after it blows into the parking lot.

As a separate concern, residents at Friday’s meeting also discussed a seasonal pond that typically dries up during summer months. This year it is especially large, and for the first time ever, after someone asked about it, the county tested it for bacteria. “It was kind of under our radar,” said Lorene Jackson, a project manager with the county’s Environmental Health Services.

The water tested positive for E. coli and two other bacteria used as indicators of potentially pathogenic bacteria or viruses, prompting the county to post an advisory that water contact may cause illness. 

“I don’t suspect there’s anything new going on at the pond this year; it’s just something we haven’t tested for historically,” Ms. Jackson said. The contamination could come from failing septic systems or from cattle and wildlife waste that travels down the watershed; the county doesn’t have funding in place to determine the source of the bacteria.

For now, the county is urging Dillon Beach residents to form a village association to focus their concerns. “There’s a lot of advantages to being organized as a community,” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said at last Friday’s meeting. With a village association, the town would get a seat at the table with the new Alliance of Coastal Marin Villages, which formed to address impacts from tourism in particular. 

And when Supervisor Rodoni met with Mr. Goebel, the supervisor had no group to tell him to go see. “If you had a group forum, it’d be easier for Mike to answer questions up front,” he said. 

A 16-person committee has already been formed and will meet on June 14; a representative from the resort is expected to attend. Over 60 people have indicated interest in a village group, according to organizer Melinda Bell.

For his part, Mr. Goebel is hosting his own meeting at the resort on June 25 to clear up what he calls misinformation. He said much of what was coming from the crowd at Friday’s meeting wasn’t true, and that he's heard more support from others in the community. But with a vocal group, “the communication has broken down," he said. "There’s a lot of venom. They don’t like change.”