What will it take for the Board of Supervisors to act responsibly?

Oceano Dunes.
Oceano Dunes.

Given the significant threat to the health and safety of residents of South County from wind-blown dust, you would think the Board of Supervisors would use its ownership of 584 acres in the Oceano Dunes to force State Parks to do everything in its power to protect the health of downwind county residents.

You would be wrong.

It may not be well known that San Luis Obispo County owns a significant portion of the Oceano Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Park known as the La Grande Tract. As documented by the Air Pollution Control District (APCD), the operation of the off-highway vehicle park in general, and the La Grande Tract in particular, causes significant emissions of fine particles of dust downwind of the park. The dust pollution is particularly acute on the Nipomo Mesa, where residents are exposed to dangerously high levels of these fine particulates, sometimes far in excess of the limits established by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California.

Sand blown by the wind and coming off the vehicles leaving the park also accumulate in the community of Oceano, making daily life difficult for these residents.

Despite years of wrangling with the APCD and the public, State Parks has failed to implement meaningful mitigation that reduces emissions of hazardous, fine particulates from the park to naturally occurring background levels. To put it another way, State Parks has consistently put the interest of off-road recreation ahead of the health of San Luis Obispo residents.

The county General Plan explicitly mandates that the La Grande Tract “shall be administered through a memorandum of understanding between the county and the State Department of Parks and Recreation.” The county did enter into a 25-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with State Parks in 1983. That has now expired, and the Board of Supervisors has done almost nothing to force State Parks to negotiate a new MOU.

Recently, the board cited the pending litigation between the county and Mesa Community Alliance—a group of residents concerned about particulate pollution—as an excuse for its inaction.That lawsuit, however, was recently resolved in favor of the county because the Court ultimately concluded it could not force the county to bring State Parks to the negotiating table.

While the court’s ruling was disappointing to Mesa residents, it also means the Board of Supervisors can no longer use the lawsuit as an excuse for not engaging State Parks in negotiating an agreement for the use of its property that protects residents’ health.

The time to act is now, as the Coastal Commission will consider the State Parks’ application for another round of mitigation measures already deemed inadequate by the APCD and the California Air Resources Board to protect public health.

In the past, State Parks has thumbed its nose at APCD, the Coastal Commission and the public, dragging its feet and refusing to implement meaningful mitigation that might reduce any off-roading opportunities.

Nothing will change unless the county makes it clear to State Parks that it will no longer tolerate State Parks’ indifference towards the health of county residents.

It can and should use its ownership of the La Grande Tract to force State Parks to the table.

Larry Versaw, former mayor of Grover Beach and long-time community activist, is president of Mesa Community Alliance, a nonprofit public benefit corporation.

Coastal Commission schedule

The California Coastal Commission meets Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 13 and 14, at the Cambria Pines Lodge, 2905 Burton Drive. On Thursday, the commission will consider State Parks’ application for a permit to conduct a five-year dust control program at the Oceano Dunes Off-Highway Vehicle Park. The item is the second-to-last matter on the Thursday agenda.

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