Commission could decide fate of Oceano Dunes off-roading


There is minimal prevalent ground in a decades-long struggle in excess of off-highway recreation, financial flexibility and the fate of California’s dwindling coastal methods.

While the make any difference is probable to stop up in courtroom, the California Coastal Commission is scheduled Thursday to eventually make your mind up whether or not off-highway riding will keep on to be permitted at Oceano Dunes Condition Vehicular Recreation Space — the only condition park exactly where motor vehicles can be pushed alongside the seashore.

Fee staffers have concluded that off-highway car or truck use alongside the eight miles of shoreline in the vicinity of San Luis Obispo is inconsistent with the Coastal Act and have encouraged that it close in 5 decades.

But officials at the California Office of Parks and Recreation disagree and say a automobile ban would be inconsistent with point out rules regarding use of off-highway automobiles, or OHV. As an alternative, they have drafted a management approach that envisions expanding vehicular and OHV use and putting in advancements, together with campgrounds and concessionaire place, in close proximity to scenic Oso Flaco Lake, as nicely as an OHV historic museum and a taking pictures assortment.

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Space is the only California Condition Park wherever autos could be driven on the seaside.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Moments)

“The conference on Thursday is going to be crazy,” explained Deborah Sivas, an environmental litigator and director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Regulation University. “This discussion has achieved the level of crisis.”

Aaron Peskin, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a previous coastal commissioner, described the standoff as “a 21st century scandal.”

“The commission has amazing legal powers,” he mentioned. “But the OHV group is loud, intense and combative.”

Mates of Oceano Dunes, an business symbolizing 28,000 off-road enthusiasts, asserts that banning folks from flying in excess of the coastal dunes in tailored sand rails, roaring about the soaked sand on filth bikes and kicking up roostertails on significant-driven ATVs is a form of elitism. They chafe at the truth that the region they are allowed to get pleasure from is only about 10% of the 15,000 acres they roamed a number of decades in the past. OHV functions, they place out, catch the attention of nearly 2 million men and women a year and inject a lot more than $100 million into the San Luis Obispo County financial system.

The organization’s leaders have very long challenged air-top quality experts’ proof that intense auto use is largely responsible for a air pollution dilemma in close by downwind communities that are house to extra than 20,000 people today.

A truck sporting a "save our dunes" flag amid a flock of seagulls on the beach

An off-highway driver helps make a statement at Oceano Dunes.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Instances)

To the mounting aggravation of opponents, Good friends of Oceano Dunes has been on a winning streak in courtroom. In excess of the earlier 5 years, the team has effectively sued the fee, the California Air Sources Board and the San Luis Obispo County Air Air pollution Management District over the agencies’ steps at Oceano.

A calendar year back, a San Luis Obispo County Top-quality Court choose ordered the commission to pay back Friends $252,726 in attorney’s charges. The get came right after the team received a lawsuit accusing the company of failing to comply with the California Environmental Good quality Act in 2017 when it experimented with to expand dust management measures at Oceano.

As for the end result of Thursday’s hearing, “unfortunately, we really don’t know what to anticipate,” mentioned Jim Suty, president of Buddies of Oceano Dunes.

A beach bonfire with a truck in the background

The point out will have to choose whether to proceed permitting cars on the extend of seashore around San Luis Obispo.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Occasions)

“We believe that that the commission is overreaching its authority,” he said. “State parks are not able to get rid of OHV from Oceano Dunes due to the fact it is mandated to offer OHV recreation there.”

The hassle commenced in 1982, just after the fee issued a temporary permit that gave state parks officers 18 months to figure out the range of automobiles the place can handle every day and set up a long term entrance to limit injury for federally endangered steelhead trout and two species of birds: the Western snowy plover and the California least tern.

But the parks section by no means concluded the position. The 1,500 acres of the park obtainable to vehicles have been working less than an “interim” procedure, with a restrict of 5,300 vehicles a day and a key entrance that forces website visitors to generate by means of habitat at the mouth of Arroyo Grande Creek to get to a staging space for unloading dune buggies and motorbikes.

Vehicles drive on a wide stretch of beach

Automobiles push on the seashore at Oceano Dunes Condition Vehicular Recreation Space.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Situations)

The everyday-use restrict has been lessened through the COVID-19 pandemic to 2,500 motor vehicles.

The reproductive life of federally threatened snowy plovers became a sizzling matter a year ago, right after Oceano locked its gates because of to the coronavirus, and the golfing-ball-dimensions shorebirds started nesting in locations that are commonly open up to off-roaders.

The nesting period of the plover runs from March by means of September, coinciding with the period of time of best human use of the seashore at Oceano.

All those clashing interests induced condition and federal investigations into studies that state parks rangers intentionally wrecked plover nests around Pismo Seashore in planning for the reopening of the beach.

A dog hangs out the window of an SUV on the beach

The interests of conservationists and off-roaders arrive into conflict at Oceano Dunes.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Moments)

The fee purchased the California Section of Parks and Recreation to stop functions created to disrupt plover nesting and conducted with no coastal growth permits. People violations included brushing absent plover nests, which are mere depressions in the sand, installing Mylar flags to dissuade breeding conduct and moving birds.

On a further entrance, commission staffers and air quality agencies have concluded that off-roading raises dust that will cause community health issues. But a the latest evaluation of airborne particulate samples executed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography indicates that blowing sand from Oceano Dunes does not pose a wellbeing threat for people downwind of the park.

Lots of citizens have complained about off-roaders driving souped-up dune buggies and sand rails with Confederate flags attached to their steel get bars, as effectively as photos of automated rifles and naked females, that make it not comfortable for the community to walk, swim and appreciate non-vehicular routines at the beach.

A military-style Humvee drives on on the beach near the water

A Humvee drives on the seashore at Oceano Dunes.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Situations)

In a statement, the parks division claimed it “does not have broad authority to prohibit people from moving into park models on the foundation of their alternative of clothes, visual appearance or equipment this sort of as flags.”

The pressures bearing down on Oceano were being obvious on a the latest Friday right after the gates opened at the primary entrance on Pier Avenue. Motorists of pickup vans with trailers had been having trapped in the sand and spinning their wheels or hitting the fuel to steer clear of dropping traction on the seashore, in which the pace restrict is 15 mph.

Nearby, Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate for the Center for Organic Range, was peering through binoculars at shorebirds looking for bugs and crustaceans in myriad tire tracks.

An American flag with a person in the background

Michael Heim, 43, of Apple Valley has been coming to Oceano Dunes due to the fact he was a teen. He now provides his loved ones to the location.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“Should off-roaders be ready to run off absolutely everyone else, like the species that advanced here?” he grumbled. “Whose point out park is this, in any case?”

That form of converse irked Michael Heim, 43, of Apple Valley, who, like a lot of some others was flying an American flag in the mattress of his pickup truck.

“This is a performing man’s paradise, wherever people can fly kites about the waves, come across remarkable sand bucks underneath their toes and enjoy the sun go down beside a campfire,” he informed a reporter. “Yeah, you can also lower doughnuts in the sand in custom dune buggies, but Oceano Dunes is so much extra than that.”

Cars line up at a tollbooth with the ocean in the background

Cars line up to enter Oceano Dunes Condition Vehicular Recreation Area.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Moments)

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