By KAREN VELIE
A multiyear contentious legal battle ended Friday with a judge ordering the California Coastal Commission to pay Friends of the Oceano Dunes $252,726 for attorney’s fees and costs.
In late 2017, the commission approved a large expansion of dust control measures at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area without complying with the California Environmental Policy Act (CEQA). Friends sued to block the approval and won that battle in Feb. 2020.
Laws permit attorneys who undertake cases with a “significant public benefit” to request attorney’s fees if they win. Attorneys for the commission argued that friend’s court victory was technical, and as such they should not have to pay fees and costs. The court rejected the commission’s argument.
In addition, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Tana Coates noted significant and substantive violations of environmental law and did not “simply order the commission to make a clarification of the permit,” as the commission argued.
Friend’s of the Dunes President Jim Suty said he is extremely pleased with the judge’s decision, but that he is concerned over the commission’s continued attempts to close the Oceano Dunes to off-road vehicles.
At a meeting in July, the commission approved a smaller dust control project. Friends responded by filing another lawsuit against the commission, arguing the agency still is not complying with CEQA.
Suty has also questioned why California State Parks is not standing up to the commission and “their continued abuse of power.” State Parks is responsible for protecting and managing the park.
Friends of Oceano Dunes is a not-for-profit corporation expressly created to preserve camping and off-highway vehicle recreation at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Friends represents approximately 28,000 members and users of the Oceano Dunes.