Over the last three decades, as environmental science and law have evolved, the California Department of Parks and Recreation has remained chronically out of compliance with the environmental protection requirements of its Coastal Development Permit for the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (ODSVRA).
At this point, it's clear that State Parks can't continue to operate the ODSVRA—a big chunk of environmentally sensitive coastal habitat—the way it has been, and that its current modus operandi is bringing a rising threat of litigation from groups like mine and legislation from Sacramento of the "if you won't take care of the problem, we'll do it for you" variety. So it's no surprise that at this historical moment, State Parks has 1) finally embarked on a Habitat Conservation Plan, 2) finally semi-capitulated in its long fight with the Air Pollution Control District over reduction of the toxic dust from its off-road playground, and 3) hit upon the idea of a public works program.
But old habits die hard, and after 35 years of hostile intransigence, there should be no more benefit of the doubt accorded to State Parks. It should be assumed that the agency will use these multiple processes as another opportunity for misdirection and hand waving, with the end goal of claiming that what they should be doing is more or less what they've been doing, because they've been doing it for so long.
The sudden flurry of habitat conservation, dust control, and public works plans, all walled off from each other in separate planning silos, are suggestive of State Parks' go-to move over the last three decades at the dunes: Invite all parties into a bureaucratic morass, convene hundreds of hours of meetings, produce reams of paper, and emerge with deals and compromises that subsequently implode or otherwise become non-operational, leaving the status quo intact. Lather, rinse, repeat.
State Parks has always struggled with the fact that its operation of the ODSVRA must conform to the county's Local Coastal Plan (LCP), ultimately overseen by the California Coastal Commission. The proposed public works program is being proposed as a way to remove the Coastal Commission from its ongoing oversight role at the Oceano Dunes. As far as the Local Coastal Plan and its environmentally protective policies are concerned, the Sierra Club spent years in court arguing against the belief of State Parks and the off-road lobby that the LCP somehow didn't apply to the dunes. We prevailed on that point of law, and also won a court ruling that any new proposed permitted project at the Dunes would trigger State Parks' obligation to revise and update its woefully outdated plan to conform with the county's Local Coastal Plan.
At the public meeting on the public works plan held in Arroyo Grande on May 22, I told the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division managers assembled at the dais that we can see why a plan that they believe will finally render their off-road playground immune to oversight would hold great attraction for them.
Local residents came up to the microphone as supplicants pleading that at least some portion of their beach be made safe for them by closing off one entrance and opening another, or to complain about the traffic, noise, and pollution that has stunted their community and to ask if there could be slightly less of this.
It's time to simplify. A public works program should do what State Parks says it wants to do: reimagine its management of the SVRA and put forward a different vision of permitted vehicular recreation there. A public works program should convert the park to passive use, lower-cost, visitor-serving recreation. Which is to say, the future of vehicular recreation at the ODSVRA is limited car camping.
The fire falls at Yosemite have been terminated. Dynamite fishing and bear baiting are relics of the past. It's time to conform to environmental laws as they have evolved since the SVRA at Oceano Dunes was designated so that the park does not keep killing people, crushing endangered species, and giving us the distinction of the worst air quality in the nation.
We are urging State Parks to read the writing in the sand and take this opportunity to gracefully transition vehicular recreation at Oceano Dunes to car camping only.
State Parks will hold public workshops on the development and evaluation of publics works program concepts and the preparation of a preliminary draft will be held throughout the fall and winter of 2018. Ask to be put on the mailing list atso you can attend or submit comments on concepts on the website. Δ
Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org get your thoughts published by emailing a letter email@example.com.