By KAREN VELIE
Another contentious legal battle ended Friday with a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruling in favor of Friends of the Oceano Dunes. The judge determined the California Department of Parks and Recreation violated the California Public Records Act.
Friends of the 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.
Ten months ago, the not-for-profit made a public records request for the new modeling data of dust control measures at the Oceano Dunes. The new data could throw into question the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District’s determination that off-highway recreation is the cause of dust blowing on the Nipomo Mesa.
State Parks took the position that because of the pandemic, they were unable to comply with the Public Records Act in a timely manner.
The judge disagreed, and ordered the state to provide the requested documents.
In addition, the court ordered State Parks to release additional records related to the closure of the Oceano Dunes during the pandemic, which the not-for-profit requested six months ago. Friends of the Oceano Dunes have accused state parks of using the pandemic to keep the Oceano Dunes closed.
During the past five years, Friends has successfully sued the California Coastal Commission, the California Air Resources Board and the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) approximately 10 times over the agencies’ regulatory actions related to the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Area.
In 2018, State Parks entered into a stipulated order of abatement with the APCD. The order requires the state to reduce wind-blown dust, specifically dust particles that are 10 microns or less in diameter, on the Nipomo Mesa by 50 percent. Despite agreeing to the various terms in the order, State Parks still denied that off-roading causes the dust on the mesa.
Over the past 10 years, the state has spent more than $15 million in taxpayer revenue to reduce dust concentrations on the mesa.
Meanwhile, California Coastal Commission staff, which became involved because of the APCD-derived false concerns that silica from the dunes was harming the health of people living on the mesa, is pushing to shut down the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area over the next five years, while State Parks wants to keep it open.
Friends of the Oceano Dunes plans to seek reimbursement for attorney’s fees and costs from State Parks, as it has successfully done after winning earlier court cases against public agencies, including the Coastal Commission.
Even though the Coastal Commission and State Parks both operate under the umbrella of the California Natural Resources Agency, they have battled for control over the Oceano Dunes for almost four years, with taxpayers ultimately paying for court costs and legal fees.