The entire California Coastal Commission visited Lawson’s Landing last Thursday for a 90-minute tour of the historic Dillon Beach campground and trailer park, which has been undergoing a complicated permitting process for the last two years. Commissioners were eager to see the site before an official hearing, which will take place either this August in San Louis Obispo or in December in San Francisco.

Commissioners were greeted by environmental activists and campground advocates, none of whom are satisfied with the commission’s decision in 2008 to limit—but not eliminate—camping and trailer park residences on the property.

“One of the main tenets of the Coastal Act is to encourage visitors to the shoreline, and that’s exactly what Lawson’s Landing does,” said Ted Harris, a campground activist and ecologist with California Strategies. “People come here to enjoy the shoreline, its resources and its beauty. It is maintained like a state park.”

While commissioners toured the 940-acre site they were briefed on the ecological hurdles facing Lawson’s Landing. The site’s sensitive dune and wetlands habitats are home to endangered snowy plovers and red-legged frogs.

“We’ve had concerns about the project,” said Marin Audubon Society Director Phil Peterson. “Our concerns require setbacks. We feel the campground is encroaching on wetlands, and camping and human activity interferes with avian wildlife.” Peterson believes the 40,000 visitors each year further endanger threatened species.

Marin Audubon Society, along with the Sierra Club, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin and several other environmental interest groups, have appealed to the commission after the county approved the Lawson’s Landing master plan in 2008. They are asking for much stricter regulations on the site, as well as dune and wetlands restoration.

Campground co-owner Willy Vogler hopes the commission will be able to find a compromise that allows his business, which provides one of the only blue-collar vacation options in West Marin, to stay open. “We’re hoping that they can find it in their hearts to come up with a balancing point between the environment and coastal access,” he said. “If they walk away thinking that Lawson’s Landing is a valuable coastal resource for environmental as well as public aspects, then I’m a happy guy.”