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Los Osos, California facts for kids

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Los Osos
Unincorporated community
View of Los Osos from Morro Bay harbor
View of Los Osos from Morro Bay harbor
Country  United States
State  California
County San Luis Obispo
 • Total 12.783 sq mi (33.110 km2)
 • Land 12.763 sq mi (33.057 km2)
 • Water 0.020 sq mi (0.053 km2)  0.16%
Elevation 200 ft (60 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 14,276
 • Density 1,116.80/sq mi (431.169/km2)
Time zone Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP codes 93402 and 93412
Area code 805
GNIS feature ID 2407812
Los Osos CA from Broderson Hill
View of Los Osos and Morro Bay from Broderson Hill.

Los Osos is an unincorporated community and a census-designated place located along the Pacific coast of San Luis Obispo County, California. The community is part of the 93402 and 93412 ZIP codes and area code 805. The population was 14,276 at the 2010 census.

Geography and ecology

Los Osos is located at 35°19'0" North, 120°50'8" West (35.316795, -120.835605). The Elfin Forest, San Luis Obispo County is a notable natural area at Los Osos.


Los Osos is largely a bedroom community for San Luis Obispo, which is 10.6 miles east, and to a lesser extent, Morro Bay, which is 2.3 miles to the north. There is a small business district concentrated in just a few blocks along Los Osos Valley Road, and several shops servicing the Baywood section of Los Osos, near the bay. The rest of the town is almost entirely residential. Its population is approximately 16,000 and total population at build-out is limited to approximately 26,000.

There are two roads connecting Los Osos to other communities: South Bay Boulevard, which leads to Morro Bay via Highway 1, and Los Osos Valley Road, which leads to San Luis Obispo. Inclement weather and road construction occasionally forces the closure of a route, possibly requiring detours to arrive at one's destination. This has been much less frequent since the Chorro Bridge replaced the Twin Bridges on South Bay Boulevard.

Los Osos serves as the entrance to Montaña de Oro State Park. Los Osos Valley Road reaches the coast at the south end of Estero Bay and continues south into the state park. Morro Bay State Park borders the northeast of the town. South Bay Boulevard travels through the middle of the park after it leaves Los Osos. Los Osos is also home to the Elfin Forest which sits on the southeast side of the estuary that sits between Los Osos and Morro Bay State Park.

Large groves of eucalyptus trees attract the annually migrating monarch butterflies to Los Osos.

Los Osos' proximity to the Diablo Canyon Power Plant means that warning sirens are located throughout the town so that the residents will be warned if the power plant should suffer a meltdown or other adverse event. The sirens are also found in other cities nearby, including Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Avila Beach. Except for yearly tests, the sirens go largely unused and unnoticed.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP covers an area of 12.8 square miles (33.1 km2), 99.84% of it land, and 0.16% of it water.


Los Osos was combined with the adjoining unincorporated area of Baywood Park to form the census-designated place of Baywood-Los Osos, but they were split into separate CDPs for the 2010 census. The 2010 United States Census reported that Los Osos had a population of 14,276. The population density was 1,116.7 people per square mile (431.2/km2). The racial makeup of Los Osos was 12,304 (86.2%) White, 79 (0.6%) African American, 97 (0.7%) Native American, 748 (5.2%) Asian, 18 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 552 (3.9%) from other races, and 478 (3.3%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1,977 persons (13.8%).

The Census reported that 14,191 people (99.4% of the population) lived in households, 74 (0.5%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 11 (0.1%) were institutionalized.

There were 5,958 households, out of which 1,537 (25.8%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 3,039 (51.0%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 545 (9.1%) had a female householder with no husband present, 252 (4.2%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 315 (5.3%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 67 (1.1%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 1,595 households (26.8%) were made up of individuals and 717 (12.0%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38. There were 3,836 families (64.4% of all households); the average family size was 2.86.

The population was spread out with 2,557 people (17.9%) under the age of 18, 1,162 people (8.1%) aged 18 to 24, 3,056 people (21.4%) aged 25 to 44, 4,827 people (33.8%) aged 45 to 64, and 2,674 people (18.7%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 47.2 years. For every 100 females there were 95.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.6 males.

There were 6,488 housing units at an average density of 507.5 per square mile (196.0/km2), of which 4,034 (67.7%) were owner-occupied, and 1,924 (32.3%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.3%; the rental vacancy rate was 4.7%. 9,345 people (65.5% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 4,846 people (33.9%) lived in rental housing units.


Native American Chumash were the first inhabitants of the local area. These peoples relied partially on the harvesting of fish and shellfish (e.g. Macoma nasuta) from Morro Bay. There is a large Chumash archaeological site on a stabilized sand dune in Los Osos dating to at least as early as 1200 AD. Cabrillo first encountered the Chumash in the year 1542.

Sewer controversy

Since 1983, a section of the community of Los Osos (Prohibition Zone) has been under a septic tank discharge prohibition, Resolution 83-13, issued by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board because that part of the town's septic tanks are too numerous and concentrated to dissipate nitrates. A building moratorium within the Prohibition Zone became effective in 1989 as part of the discharge prohibition. San Luis Obispo County was the original authority in charge of building the Wastewater Treatment System. Although the design of the County's selected project was nearly complete they were unable to bring the project to fruition. In July 1997, the County appeared before the California Coastal Commission to address an appeal of the construction permit for the project. Due to voiced opposition at the meeting from members of the Los Osos/Baywood Park Community, the Commission postponed its decision until a full hearing could be held. In 1998 an election was held to form the Los Osos Community Services District (LOCSD) by residents as a response to the high cost of the original sewer proposal. The original billing for the sewer of $50 a month in 1984 and is now (2010) estimated to exceed $200 a month with the current estimated cost of construction of the facilities and collection system to be well over $150 million before tax and interest. On January 1, 1999, the District was established and assumed responsibility for constructing the project.

There was also a controversy about where the sewer should be built. A location in the center of Los Osos (once known as the Tri-W site after the names of the previous owners of the property, now called the Mid-Town site), was chosen partly because of a desire for an additional park. The County, Planning Commission and the Coastal Commission approved a sewer at the site after hearing critics' claims.

In August 2005, despite a pending recall election, the LOCSD began building a sewer at the Mid-Town site, contractors began work on the project and were advanced payments from a State Revolving Fund loan. Following a recall election which replaced the majority of the LOCSD board (Stan Gustafson, President; Richard La Gros, Member; Gordon Hensley, Member) and enactment of an initiative measure that would require relocation of the project, the new board stopped building the sewer, despite a letter warning them of severe consequences from the Regional Water Quality Control Board. However, in late 2006, the LOCSD started to work with Ripley Pacific, a contractor widely known for designing STEP/STEG systems.

In October 2005, the LOCSD defaulted on a low interest State Revolving Fund loan and the state subsequently refused to disburse additional funds and demanded immediate repayment. Project contractors filed suit for more than $23 million in costs and lost profits. The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has used its enforcement powers to impose fines against the district in the amount of $6.6 million for violation of the discharge prohibition emanating from three LOCSD-owned sites. During February 2006 the Regional Water Quality Control Board, threatened it would begin to issue cease and desist orders to citizens of Los Osos, and may require recipients to pump their septic systems every three years, and to stop using them by 2011.

On August 25, 2006, the district filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in federal court. While the district had enough money to cover day-to-day needs, it did not have enough money to cover its legal fees and consultant fees. This action stays the legal actions against the district related to money owed. Contractor lawsuits and other actions seeking monetary damages or claims against the district will be held in abeyance while the district addresses its financial situation.

Additionally, legislation has been approved by the California legislature that could return control of construction of the wastewater treatment facility to the County of San Luis Obispo but only after a due diligence period and a resolution by the County to accept the project. The legislation took the project away from the LOCSD. The LOCSD is still providing approximately one half of the town's drinking water, and is in charge of drainage, parks and recreation, street lighting, the contracting of fire, emergency and rescue services as well as solid waste services. The bill, AB 2701, was signed by the governor and went into effect January 1, 2007. A plan has been approved by the County Board of Supervisors, amended by the County Planning Commission pursuant to some of the objections raised by the community and its Community Advisory Council. The California Coastal Commission has denied the County a permit to proceed due to "Substantial Issues" that were cited during an appeals hearing. A De-Novo hearing is still pending. To date (April 2010) with more than $7 million spent the County has not voted to accept the project.

Origin of name

On September 7 – 8, 1769, the Portolà expedition traveled through the San Luis Obispo area on his way to rediscover the Bay of Monterey. Finding an abundance of bears in the area, his diarist, Padre Juan Crespi, O.F.M., recorded that the name given the area by his soldiers was "Los Osos". Sources disagree about whether the rest of the Spanish name Crespi recorded was "llano" (plain) or "cañada". The fact is that it's a broad, flat valley and the community wisely kept only the simplified "Los Osos", thereby avoiding controversy.

The Portolà expedition was the beginning of a push by Spain to explore the northwestern frontier of Las Californias, and to establish both military outposts and missions. The move was intended to counter what were thought to be colonial designs by Russian traders from Alaska and the British fur companies in the Pacific Northwest. (See: Fort Ross, Russian-American Company, Hudson's Bay Company) The Portolà expedition was organized by the Visitadór Generàl of New Spain, José de Gálvez, following up (belatedly) on previous maritime expeditions, most notably that of Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602-3, who visited and described many points along the coast, including Monterey Bay, Portolà's primary destination.

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