Sierra Club lawsuit over Oceano Dunes is thrown out

Decision says environmental group waited too long to challenge 1982 permit that allows riding in SLO County-owned tract

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJanuary 10, 2012 

A California appeals court has rejected a request by the Sierra Club to ban dune buggy riding on a county-owned parcel in Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Citing late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who said “wise adjudication has its own time for ripening,” a state Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a San Luis Obispo Superior Court decision that it is too late to review a coastal development permit issued in 1982 that allows off-highway vehicles on a 584-acre, county-owned parcel, called the La Grande Tract, within the park.

“It’s a setback, but we are just going to keep at it,” said environmental attorney Babak Naficy, who represented the Sierra Club. “We will be advocating before the (California) Coastal Commission and the county.”

The Sierra Club had sued State Parks, arguing that the La Grande Tract is classified as a buffer area by San Luis Obispo County’s local coastal plan and is, therefore, a nonvehicle area. Both courts ruled that State Parks is under no obligation to amend its general development plan to reflect the designation.

“Despite two pleading attempts, Sierra Club has failed to allege that State Parks has a clear and present ministerial duty to ban (off-roading) activities in the La Grande Tract,” wrote the three-judge panel in its ruling.

The Sierra Club was ordered to pay the costs of the appeal and is barred from further litigation over the 1982 permit. The lawsuit was the latest move in the club’s efforts to curtail off-road riding in the park.

State Parks leases the La Grande Tract from the county and operates it as part of the riding area. State Parks offered to buy the La Grande Tract in 2007, but the county Board of Supervisors balked.

The Sierra Club argued that a court order was the only way to swiftly remedy the situation. But the court noted that the Coastal Commission and county have closely monitored activities in the park for more than 20 years.

“The presumption is that the Coastal Commission, the county and State Parks have weighed the competing interests and are acting in the best interest of everyone, including the Sierra Club,” the judges’ ruling concluded.

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