Why are some of us activists working to get the vehicles off Oceano State Beach and Dunes, when there are so many other things in this world that need changing? We are trying, as the saying goes, to think globally, but act locally.
Global crises, including energy, economics, health, and the environment, manifest themselves in this local issue. Government misrepresentation to the public runs rampant through it. It is happening here, and now. And we can act to change it here, and now.
In 1971, the off-highway industry and off-roaders pushed the Chapee Z’berg Act through the California Legislature. It transfers gasoline tax to the Off-Highway Vehicle Division (OHV) of California State Parks and Recreation. The OHV bought land and created State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRAs) including the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (ODSVRA) to contain the nuisance of off-road vehicles.
The theory was that off-road vehicles don’t use the roads and highways, so the tax paid should go to manage the ever-increasing nuisance. The OHV skims about $5 million a month. The legislature recently determined that the OHV over-calculated the amount by 50 percent. If the amount were corrected, the difference would go where it belongs and is desperately needed—to cities, counties, and for highway maintenance. We can act on this.
Each day, we see thousands of out-of-towners in huge trailers haul off-road vehicles on our roads and highways to our South County beach to camp and ride. They have little or no need for hotels, restaurants, or other local offerings. They pay the state about $20 a day to camp, and do not pay county bed tax, which is the primary revenue for beach towns in our county. They spend about a hundred dollars each on gasoline to get back to the valley. Grand Avenue businesses fail at an alarming rate because the traffic does not stop, and Pier Avenue is but a sandy off-ramp.
Ecotourism is displaced by this type of tourist. Just as the smoker fouls the air for the non-smoker, ugly, noisy, polluting off-roading ruins the atmosphere for those who need the sights, smells, and sounds of nature. The few spoil it for the many, promoting “nature deficiency disorder,” and reduced health benefits by preventing a safe walk on the beach. We can act on this.
Government misrepresentation accounts for the misconception locally that the ODSVRA is a cash cow, instead of the drain that it actually is. The OHV claimed in the early 1990s that off-roading visitors bring us $90 million a year. The then-superintendent of the ODSVRA admitted that the claim was overestimated by 50 percent. But that higher figure was used as a base in 2004 to claim an astounding $200 million. A recent Cal Poly study found the amount to be $76 million. Had gasoline purchases not been included, the result would be more in line with a study by Dean Runyan Associates, a firm engaged by California counties to track tourist dollars, which found that the amount that same year from all campgrounds in the county, both state and county, including the ODSVRA, is less than $23 million. Overall, tourists spent $1 billion in SLO County that year. We need the other kind of tourist and the bed tax they pay, to support our cities and counties and fix our potholes. We can act on this.
The oil off-road visitors consume while here (and to get here) depletes our energy supply. Our kids are sent off to war to protect oil supplies, and staggering national war debt has shattered our economy. The times call for greening and smart growth, but our county is host to those who squander gasoline on Oceano’s beach, creek, and dunes. We can act on this.
The visitors’ “toys”, manufactured by such off-shore multinational corporations as Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki, are not inspected at the kiosks for current air-quality regulations. No statistics are provided to the local air quality board, so the carbon footprint of Oceano Beach and Dunes and its contribution to global warming are unknown. But particulate matter downwind of the ODSVRA has been measured for decades. It exceeds health standards, implicating millions in health care and lost work. We can act on this.
Our public health-care system subsidizes many off-road vehicle injuries. Dr. Larry Foreman, emergency room physician, estimates a thousand injuries a year at Arroyo Grande Hospital from the ODSVRA. That figure does not include other hospitals in this and other counties, to which the injured and dying are helicoptered or driven. Nurse Sherrie Brekke at Sierra Vista hospital estimates that a handicapped-for-life off-roader is produced every holiday on Oceano Beach and Dunes. The maimed and disabled require extended care, which destroys lives and drains government resources. We can act on this.
Let the change begin with us.
Nell Langford is a member of Safe Beach Now and owns rental property in Oceano. Send comments to email@example.com.
-- Nell Langford - Pismo Beach