Paso Robles bans off-road riding in riverbed

Public debate churned Tuesday night between supporters of continued off-roading on open space in Paso Robles and critics who say it is noisy, dusty and brings fire hazards.

In the end, the Paso Robles City Council sided with the critics, approving a ban on the activity in city limits.

In the same breath, however, council members encouraged riders to rally and find a plot of land to develop an off-road race track.

“You’ve got to organize and put pressure on the county and find places that are useful,” Councilman Nick Gilman said, noting that certain areas in Paso Robles could work. “I’ve seen pressure groups accomplish great things.”

However, he and other council members quickly pointed out that the city could not afford to direct its staff to look for such a parcel.

Off-road riders have traditionally used the dusty Salinas River bed, undeveloped open space and private lots in town, although riders say private parcels are limited.

Many have to go outside San Luis Obispo County to ride.

The new ordinance makes off-roading on public property in town an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $500 per offense.

Recent complaints from at least five Montebello Oaks households on the city’s east side prompted police to propose the ban, although authorities said the issue has cropped up from time to time in the past.

Among the many public spaces riders use, off-roaders have ridden on a plot of open space in the Montebello neighborhood near Highway 46 East and Union Road.

Several speakers represented the Montebello Oaks neighborhood.

“It’s come to the point where it could be hazardous for off-road vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles to come together,” Paso Robles resident George Dugas said.

Supporters of off-roading argued that the sport should be allowed as an activity for youths and for general recreation.

Resident Chip Tamagni, who also lives in the area, said it’s unfortunate a city that has closed a city pool and made other cutbacks would further limit outdoor activities available to youths in town.

“It’s a good diversion — maybe we can still leave the riverbed open,” he said, urging the council to keep some areas open for riders.

The Paso Robles Police Department proposed the law as a means of equipping its officers to handle complaints from residents who say off-roading is a nuisance.

The law also was proposed as way for the city to uphold its stewardship of the portion of the Salinas River that passes through town. Paso Robles was named a steward of the watershed in 2010.

City officials say riding there disrupts the animal and vegetation habitats in the seasonal waterway.

The new rule adopted by the council Tuesday night doesn’t apply to emergency vehicles or city employee vehicles used for city business.