Nipomo Mesa’s air is polluted, but the Board of Supervisors doesn’t care

Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area.

Isn’t it about time to shine a light on the cowardice of our Board of Supervisors?

No — it is way overdue. The board, callously and with disregard for the well-being of its constituents on the Nipomo Mesa, has turned its back on its primary responsibility — the protection of its citizens.

For years, it has been known, well documented and reported that the Ocean Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Park is the source of particulate matter silica dust, which is a very serious health hazard. Our county owns the property within the off-highway vehicle park from which most of the silica dust emanates. Therefore, the board has the power to take action to eliminate the cause of the dangerous pollution. It is also well known that doing so would not require closing the recreational venue. So it is certainly time to call out the board on just the most recent example of its inexcusable dereliction of duty.

In May, the board-appointed San Luis Obispo County Health Commission wrote the Board of Supervisors a letter, outlining in detail the serious risks of exposure to PM10 silica dust, calling out State Parks’ “very slow and ineffective” efforts, over years, to mitigate the hazard. In its own words, the commission states: “Nipomo Mesa residents remain exposed to very acute, chronic and cumulative health impacts,” and mentions the fact that the 24-hour-average reported measurement does not reflect the fact that residents are exposed to horrendous levels of pollution during many hours in the day.

In other words, as the measurements stand, the threat is underreported.

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The commission calls upon the board to respond by conducting, at the least, an annual review of any mitigation attempts — including public reporting — and recommends the county Air Pollution Control District publish daily pollution forecasts based on the exposure levels for shorter period of higher risk.

Arlene Versaw

Now to the latest action by the Board of Supervisors in this regard. Several citizens, in written communication and at the June 6 board meeting, asked the board to put a review and public discussion of this Health Commission letter on a future board meeting agenda.

The request was more than called for, given that Nipomo has had the worst air quality in the nation several days recently, according to the U.S. EPA. In an amazing display of indifference and arrogance, three supervisors voted “no.”

In other words, Supervisors Debbie Arnold, John Peschong and, most egregiously, Lynn Compton (because her constituents are directly affected) would not even talk about it. Yes, there is a lawsuit against the county over the dust issue. And yes, supervisors may have been told by counsel not to discuss that lawsuit.

But a general discussion about the letter from their own Health Commission, or meeting with constituents, which Compton has also rejected, is clearly within the purview of a supervisor’s job and is allowed by law.

Not taking action is cowardly and an inexcusable abrogation of leadership.

Nipomo Mesa resident Arlene Versaw is a former journalist and co-founder of Concerned Citizens for Clean Air, which has been fighting for a resolution to the dunes dust issue for seven years.