As a real estate broker, former planning commissioner, former member of the SLO Air Pollution Control District Board and Grover Beach mayor, I am heartened that the APCD board approved a consent agreement with California State Parks’ Vehicle Recreation Division.
The agreement was directed by the California Air Resources Board, the Natural Resources Agency, the attorney general, and their attorneys, who evaluated the Dust Rule and enacted the changes that I and many others have advised since 2011.
The consent agreement finally does what the Pismo and Grover Beach city councils, the Oceano Community Services District, State Parks, and APCD board members Ed Waage, Roberta Fonzi, Frank Mecham and I asked for. It includes a “best practices” approach, removal of the permitting process from the dust rule and greater oversight of the local APCD, and ends the expensive lawsuits.
Unfortunately, state authorities at the highest level had to step in after two and half years spent litigating that would have been better used mitigating.
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The controversy has diverted attention away from other serious health threats on the Mesa. The APCD may now redirect resources where it matters: to enforcing and strengthening mitigation and improving Mesa air quality. The 2013 APCD Neighborhood Monitoring Study showed that the Trilogy/Mesa Dunes development in the Woodlands area has poorer air quality than other neighborhoods.
Mesa soils are classified as “Oceano sand.” Mesa air has long experienced particulate exceedances, worsened with increased construction, and will remain bad due to population growth, which has exploded to 50,000 since 1998.
The Mesa is home to large industrial areas, unpaved sand roads, large construction projects and increasing farming activity, all of which negatively impact air quality. The Woodlands Plan approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1998 protects residents and designates the APCD and the county as the guardians of air quality. These protections include an environmental monitor to review and report daily, monthly and quarterly.
Also required is stoppage of work on high-wind days, washing of tires when leaving construction sites, watering to keep dust levels down, developing in stages rather than all at once, covering sand piles, establishing 100- to 200-foot eucalyptus barriers between Highway One and farming operations and paving nearby dirt roads.
These and other health-protecting actions are not being adequately enforced, and several impacts were not addressed in the Woodlands Plan, including the 25,000 acres of blowing sand to the west of the Mesa, sand roads, the Willow Road industrial area and train tracks upwind of the Woodlands area — all known contributors to particulate pollution. Today, the county Planning Commissioners will meet to discuss growth management and the maximum number of new dwelling units allowed on the Mesa. On April 22, the Board of Supervisors will hear an appeal to an expansion of Cypress Ridge.
Later in the year, the Phillips 66 rail extension will be on the agenda. A collaborative effort by county agencies and Mesa residents could make a big difference by: APCD and the county enforcing their mitigation requirements.
Trilogy/Mesa Dunes contractors complying with mitigation measures.
Residents and homeowners associations insisting that mitigations be carried out and tree windbreaks be re-established.
SLO County creating a disclosure advising new residents about the effects of blowing sand on the most vulnerable populations — children, seniors and those suffering from heart or lung problems — so they can make informed health decisions.
SLO County assessing the cumulative health impacts of new development and ongoing construction on the Mesa, and stopping new development until compliance is established with existing mitigations.