There are days when dust pollution on the Nipomo Mesa is so bad some residents don’t leave their homes or even open their windows due to health risks.
Does that qualify as a nuisance?
In lay terms, you bet, though dust pollution on the Mesa has not been officially declared a nuisance.
That could change. A special, five-member county Air Pollution Control hearing board is deciding whether particle pollution on the Mesa meets the state definition of “nuisance” — and whether the state’s off-road vehicle park in the Oceano Dunes is creating the problem.
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If it makes those findings, the hearing board has the power to order State Parks to remedy the situation.
It’s about time. Given the many years this has dragged on, we’re surprised this hearing board wasn’t convened for this purpose long ago.
Even at this late date, though, we believe it’s beneficial for a panel of experts to take a fresh, thorough look at evidence that’s been so long disputed.
Some background: Air studies have indicated that off-road vehicle activity is largely to blame for the plume of dust that drifts from the park and onto the Mesa. Numerous efforts have been made to compel State Parks to reduce the amount of dust by planting vegetation and installing fencing and other barriers, but results have been disappointing.
Off-road vehicle enthusiasts have long disputed the scientific studies. They say the dust blows naturally and point to other factors — such as the removal of eucalyptus trees that used to be more abundant on the Mesa — for exposing residents to dust.
No matter which side of the debate you’re on, there’s no denying the numbers: State standards for particle (PM10) pollution were violated 605 times on the Nipomo Mesa over the past five years, putting people at risk of developing asthma, bronchitis, even lung cancer.
Conditions are so unhealthy that when a young family sought his advice about whether to buy a home on the Mesa, outgoing Air Pollution Control Officer Larry Allen recommended against it.
“If it was me and my family, I wouldn’t move there,” he said.
The bad air on the Nipomo Mesa is even dragging down the entire county on air quality ratings. For example, on the American Lung Association’s list of the 25 U.S. counties with the highest year-round particle pollution, San Luis Obispo ranks 17th — just behind Los Angeles.
The fact that State Parks hasn’t taken aggressive measures to correct this is appalling. And why haven’t we heard more from our state legislators or, for that matter, from Gov. Brown?
And let’s not forget the Board of Supervisors, which has control over a county-owned tract of dunes that’s within the OHV riding area. If all five county supervisors worried about harmful particle pollution on the Mesa even half as much as they worried about residents possibly being exposed to the smell of outdoor marijuana grows, perhaps we’d get somewhere.
There is a glimmer of light: The new head of the APCD, Gary Willey, believes there’s a window of opportunity to work cooperatively with State Parks to develop an effective plan to improve air quality — possibly as part of the nusiance abatement process.
Willey does have the advantage of coming in fresh. We wish him well, though to be honest, we’ve seen this drag on so long that we have a hard time being optimistic.
Still, all possibile solutions must be explored. If this latest attempt to end to air quality violations via the nuisance abatement process fails, it’s time — past time — to demand action from Sacramento.
Residents of the Mesa have spent enough time trapped indoors on windy days, with their windows shut tight.