The Tidelands

State Tidelands Grant 1955

The Port San Luis Harbor District, located on the Central California Coast in San Luis Obispo County, is a major center for commercial, recreational and industrial activities.

The coastline (8,400 acres of State tidelands) is under the control of the District and represents a fascinating interaction between land, water, and human enterprise. Since the Port’s development in the late 1800s, the harbor has served a critical function in the economy, and in the identity, of San Luis Obispo County.

Formation of the Harbor District

The importance of the harbor was recognized by the local community in 1953 by voting for the formation of the Harbor District. At that time, the Harbor District served purely commercial harbor functions, which were enterprise in nature. Commercial fishing, agricultural exports and a marine oil terminal were the primary cargoes transferred at the harbor. At the time, these functions provided much of the funding required for the District to operate through the collection of wharfage and rental income. Uses of the harbor included: (3) commercial piers, commercial fishing, recreational boating, marine repairs, and the wholesale processing of fresh fish, including abalone processing.

The State Legislature gave impetus to the development of the harbor in 1954 by approving the local vote and formation of the Harbor District (State Harbor & Navigation Code Section 6000 et seq.) and (1955) by granting to the District those state-owned tidelands encompassing the whole San Luis Bay (Chapter 647 of Statutes of 1955, as amended by Chapter 302 of Statutes of 1957). 

Harbor Districts are formed to (Code 6012 [d]) improve and develop the harbor including "dredging, ship ways, berths, anchorage and turning basins, the construction of jetties, breakwaters, bulkheads, seawalls, wharves, ferry slips, warehouses, roads and spurs tracks or line railroads..."

Use of the Tidelands

The tidelands granted (Chapter 647 - 1955; Chapter 302 - amended 1957) to the Harbor District by the State of California, were mandated "to be used for harbor, aviation, wharves, docks, piers, slips, quays, and other structures." The land was also "to be used for establishment of public buildings, parks, playgrounds, public recreation, public fishing, and public access and public navigation."

The State tidelands grant mandates specific functions that the District must guarantee for public use. The grant mandates that the District provide "facilities and appliances necessary or convenient for the promotion and accommodation of commerce and commercial as well as recreational navigation by air and by water." It also mandates that "the State of California shall have at all times the right to use, without charge, all wharves, docks, piers, slips, quays or any other improvements and facilities constructed on said lands."

Original Purpose

The original intent of Port San Luis to obtain the State Tidelands Grant was to develop a public harbor to meet the needs of the people of the state. The tidelands grant was based on this objective and mandated that the District also provide recreational and visitor-serving uses within the granted lands. The Harbor District, while complying with the State Lands Commission’s directive, has recognized the need to provide additional non-enterprise services to ensure the enjoyment, safety, and access of the State granted lands.

Current Function

Harbor District Functions Since the Harbor District’s formation, the Port has taken on more than just harbor enterprise (oil industry and commercial fishing ) functions. As a result of the California Coastal Act of 1976, the District has been required to provide non-enterprise coastal-dependent visitor-serving and recreation uses. The Coastal Act Section 30701 also declares that the Ports of the State of California constitutes one of the State’s primary economic and coastal resources and are an essential element of the national maritime (including recreational ) industries.

Avila State Beach & Pier

In 1984, the State and County gave the Avila State Beach and Pier properties to the Harbor District. Avila Beach is the most popular beach in San Luis Obispo County, and contains many amenities and services that the Harbor District provides to the public. These amenities or services include: public restrooms, maintenance of beach/buildings, maintenance of the 1,630-foot Avila Pier, utility costs, lifeguard and security services.

Harford Pier

Harford Pier, which is another public access pier, has been designated a national historic structure by the California State Historic Preservation Office. The State Historic Preservation Office, as a result, has required the Harbor District to preserve and restore the pier, which serves a major commercial and recreational fishing function. In addition, the California State Department of Forestry has required the District to upgrade the pier with fire safety devices including the construction of a fire sprinkler system under the entire 1,424-foot pier, at substantial cost to the District.

Coastal Access

The Harbor District has implemented and provided new coastal access facilities within Avila Beach area, by improvements to beach launching ramps, construction of public restrooms and handicap access to the facilities. The District has also assisted in providing access to the Pecho Coast and Point San Luis Lighthouse, where access has never before been provided. 

The District wishes to continue to provide coastal access in compliance with California Coastal Act Section 30212. Tax revenues for the Harbor District fund many non-enterprise public programs. These tax-funded improvements are essential in maintaining and enhancing the community’s use of the public facilities at Port San Luis.

Current District Functions

Although Port San Luis once performed pure harbor enterprise functions, it now has expanded to provide many public-serving (non-enterprise) activities. Current uses of the Harbor District now include:

  • Public fishing
  • Unrestricted navigation
  • Public beaches
  • Two public/commercial piers
  • Boat launching facilities
  • Boat moorings
  • Nature education
  • Boat and engine services
  • Public restrooms
  • Beach concessions
  • Surfing and camping

  • Coastal access
  • Public parking
  • Commercial fishing
  • Land storage of boats and gear
  • Sailing
  • Water skiing
  • Restaurants
  • Fresh and live fish
  • Charter boat service
  • Fuel and ice facility
  • Boat yard repair facilities
  • Public Safety: Harbor Patrol/Lifeguards