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Who's in charge?

When it comes to the Oceano Dunes, regulatory bodies and state agencies aren't doing their jobs

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Years ago people smoked everywhere, in bed, driving their cars, at work, in restaurants. Now, not so much. Laws have been passed, and now smoking is prohibited on public transportation, in restaurants, and just about everywhere else there are indoor crowds. Smokers accept this and only smoke in their private places.

Laws dictate where you can take your dog, and dog owners go along with the rules.

A long time ago, people began riding vehicles in the Oceano Dunes. There weren't many people doing it, and there weren't many people living there. Gradually, our population increased in the towns. In the dunes, the riders became more numerous and daring. The dune riders began intruding into sensitive areas, and some species were threatened and harmed. Noise and dust abound. This year, six people died in the dunes while riding Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV).

In 1972, the Coastal Act was passed with the intention of protecting the environment and resources of the entire California coast. It has been tweaked several times since then, but the intent is still the same. That means protection of the sand, the vegetation, animals and fish, and the air is their obligation. The California Coastal Commission has the power and the responsibility to restrict activities to protect our coastal areas. Just as smoking prohibitions and leash laws regulate smoking and dogs, the Coastal Commission must protect the coast. Smokers, dogs, and OHV roughriders are not "grandfathered" in.

The Air Pollution Control Districts (APCD) have the same power, and it is absolute. If some activity is causing degradation of air quality, the APCD is empowered to terminate or curtail that activity. Every few years, you have to get your car smog-tested. If the emissions from your car exceed the acceptable standards, you have to get your car fixed. If you don't get your car up to standards, you can't drive your car on public roads. The DMV will not send you the little sticker to put on your license plate. No negotiating, no side deals, no time extensions, nothing halfway. You do it, because it's the law.

The Coastal Commission met in July to consider and review non-compliance with conditions of operations at the Oceano Dunes. The Coastal Commission caved in to a very assertive bunch of OHV activists. The Coastal Commission is dealing with the State Parks system, which seems equally intimidated by the OHV crowd. The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is part of the State Parks system, and both are in charge of managing OHV activities in the dunes. Shame on both of those agencies.

The San Luis Obispo County APCD met recently in Arroyo Grande to consider enforcement of dust emissions at the OHV driving area in the dunes. When the OHVs ride on the dry sand, they stir up particles of sand. The larger particles drop down and add to the height of the sand formations. The tiny particles become airborne and get into everything as far away as Highway 101 near Santa Maria. They get caught in vegetation, land on cars and structures, and get breathed in by creatures who breathe air. Again, there was a willy-nilly action by the APCD that didn't get to the heart of the matter.

OHV activities are messing up the dunes and everything that lives there and nearby. Both the Coastal Commission and the APCD have the absolute power and obligation to curtail these activities, and they should do it right now. Δ

Evelyn Delany served as a SLO County supervisor from 1985 to 1997, and now she's retired in Shell Beach. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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