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Oceano Dunes off-road vehicle enthusiasts win two more lawsuits

| Karen Velie, | Access Issues

Friends of the Oceano Dunes has won two more legal battles against government agencies involved in the contentious fight over the future of the off-road vehicle park.

The first ruling invalidates the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District’s (APCD) agreement to implement its dust rule. Formally called Rule 1001, the dust rule requires state parks to reduce the particulate matter blowing from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area or face fines of $1,000 per day.

The court found the APCD’s agreement violates public policy because the agency adopted the agreement out of view of the public and without public input. The court also ruled that APCD staff didn’t have the authority to change Rule 1001 requirements, without direction from the agency’s full board of directors.

The ruling appears to allow State Parks the ability to seek reimbursement from the APCD for monies expended under the void agreement.

Friends of the Oceano Dunes is a not-for-profit corporation expressly created to preserve camping and off-highway vehicle recreation at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Friends represents approximately 28,000 members and users of the Oceano Dunes.

During the past five years, Friends has successfully sued the California Coastal Commission, the California Air Resources Board and the APCD approximately 10 times over the agencies’ regulatory actions related to the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Area.

In 2018, State Parks entered into a stipulated order of abatement with the APCD. The order requires the state to reduce wind-blown dust, specifically dust particles that are 10 microns or less in diameter, on the Nipomo Mesa by 50 percent. Despite agreeing to the various terms in the order, State Parks still denied that off-roading causes the dust on the mesa.

The California Coastal Commission voted in March to ban off-highway vehicle use at the Oceano Dunes in three years, prompting Friends of the Oceano Dunes to file four additional lawsuits, one of which accuses the California Coastal Commission of violating environmental laws while claiming to be a lead agency when it is not.

Following the lawsuits, State Parks appeared to ignore a mandate from the Coastal Commission to permanently fence off an area for an endangered bird that nests in the sand. State Parks took down the fencing in early October, but quickly put the fencing back up following negative publicity.

State Parks has argued that the Coastal Commission failed to produce scientific evidence that off-road vehicles impact birds after they have migrated from their seasonal-nesting area.

Even though the Coastal Commission and State Parks both operate under the umbrella of the California Natural Resources Agency, they have battled for control over the Oceano Dunes for more than four years, with taxpayers ultimately paying for court costs, legal fees and dust mitigation which currently exceeds $20 million.

In the second ruling, on Oct. 5, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ordered State Parks to pay Friends of the Oceano Dunes $23,500 for attorneys’ fees after finding the state agency violated the California Public Records Act.

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