Editorials

SLO County, don’t let State Parks get away with ruining air quality on the Nipomo Mesa

‘Stupid’: Watch OHV commissioner Ted Cabral lash out at air quality board’s actions

Ted Cabral of the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission calls action by the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District at the Oceano Dunes "stupid" and says the agency needs to be "pushed back against" in a March 1, 2019 meeting.
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Ted Cabral of the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission calls action by the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District at the Oceano Dunes "stupid" and says the agency needs to be "pushed back against" in a March 1, 2019 meeting.

State Parks is at it again: defying a county order to stop polluting air on the Nipomo Mesa.

The state agency agreed nearly a year ago to significantly reduce dangerous levels of dust particles drifting from its Oceano Dunes off-highway vehicle park to residential areas downwind.

Yet in a draft report released last month, the administration pretty much said, sorry folks, we can’t meet those goals.

It’s the same old kiss-off residents of the Nipomo Mesa have been hearing for years, and thus far, State Parks has gotten away with it.

That’s outrageous. Recreation should never be allowed to compromise the health of neighboring residents, yet that’s exactly what’s happening. Small dust particles linked to OHV riding drift to homes, schools and businesses downwind, where they can lodge in lung tissue, causing serious and even fatal illnesses.

Here’s how bad things are: Doctors have advised some patients with respiratory illnesses to move.

Think about that. State Parks is operating a recreational facility so detrimental to health that doctors are telling their patients to get the heck out of there.

Even the American Lung Association has taken note. Last year, it issued a letter urging the state and county to work together to clean up the air. It ranked our area among the top 10 most particle-polluted metropolitan areas in the United States due to pollution from the Oceano Dunes.

And still, bullies like Off-Highway Vehicle Commissioner Ted Cabral have the audacity to insult San Luis Obispo County air pollution control officials for trying to enforce air quality rules.

“That local air board needs to be told to stand down,” Cabral said during a recent meeting of the OHV Commission.

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Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commissioner Ted Cabral is an avid motorcyclist appointed to the State Parks commission by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013. He lives in Sebastopol.

If anyone should stand down, it’s Cabral. But oh no, he’s also speaking in favor of expanding use of the dunes for off-road recreation.

Whoa. State Parks’ top administration can’t even manage what it has now.

Park administrators have essentially been paying lip service to the county air board, without ever quite carrying out all of its mandates.

Last year, though, it seemed real progress was made when the state agreed to reduce dust pollution associated with OHV use by 50 percent over the next four years. So it was a huge letdown when State Parks released its draft plan saying it may not be feasible “from an economic and logistical standpoint” to meet the goal of 50 percent reduction.

It would cost between $6.2 million and $8.3 million; take between 12 and 23 years to complete necessary vegetation plantings; and require a substantial reduction in camping and other “iconic” activities in order to meet the goal, the report says.

How are Mesa residents supposed to interpret that?

That they aren’t worth $6 million to $8 million?

That “iconic” recreational activities are more important than their health?

That they should follow medical advice, pack their bags and move?

State Parks must be held accountable.

After all, the County Air Pollution Control District is not asking for the impossible.

There already has been progress: Last year, State Parks installed 100 acres of sand fencing, and according to APCD, pollution measured at the Cal Fire station on the Nipomo Mesa — which is at the center of most affected area — was 22 percent lower than predicted by scientific modeling.

The number of violations of state standards for particulate matter also dropped: from 97 in 2017 to 47 in 2018.

“We don’t want to lose sight of that,” APCD chief Gary Willey told The Tribune. “We don’t want to throw our hands up and say it can’t be solved.”

Willey has given State Parks an opportunity for a do-over; it has until the end of the week to submit an updated plan detailing how it will comply with the order.

If the revamped plan doesn’t fly, a county hearing board should waste no time in reopening a nuisance case against the park.

That could result in an order to shut down all or parts of the OHV park. If the state still doesn’t comply, it could then face astronomical daily fines.

State Parks has told The Tribune it intends to continue “cooperative efforts” to reduce pollution, but given its record of non-compliance, it’s hard to put much faith in such a blandly bureaucratic statement.

Bottom line: State Parks has already been given too many chances. This should absolutely be the last.

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