Environmentalists lose bid to intervene in Oceano Dunes lawsuit

By KAREN VELIE

Adding to their winning streak, Friends of Oceano Dunes defeated an attempt by six environmental groups to intervene in their lawsuits against the California Coastal Commission because the groups intervention would not “promote fairness.”

“The Court finds that allowing the applicants to intervene would not promote fairness, and that any reasons for intervening are outweighed by the rights of the original parties to conduct their lawsuit on their own terms,” according to the ruling. “Applicants motion to intervene is denied.”

Coastal commissioners voted unanimously in March 2020 to phase out off-road vehicle usage at the Oceano Dunes over a three-year period. Friends of Oceano Dunes responded with lawsuits accusing the coastal commission of overstepping its permitting authority, for continuing to require voided dust control measures and for failing to recognize an implied dedication.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceano Beach Community Association, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, and San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper then filed a motion to intervene as defendants in the court action.

Trial courts have discretion to permit nonparties to intervene in a lawsuit if the applicants have a direct interest in the action, the intervention will not enlarge the issues and the reasons for intervention outweigh the existing parties’ opposition.

SLO County Superior Court Judge Tana Coates determined the environmental groups “failed to identify any arguments that the California Coastal Commission would not or could not make on their behalf.”

The environmental groups also argued that they offer additional expertise regarding “the dunes and its ecological, recreational and cultural resources.” Judge Coates rejected the argument, noting the lawsuit challenges the coastal commissions’ authority in regulating the dunes, “for which applicants have no special expertise.”

“Applicants have failed to rebut the presumption of adequacy, failed to identify any
argument that the coastal commission would not or could not make on their behalf, and failed to show any elements they would bring to the proceeding that the coastal commission would neglect,” according to Judge Coates ruling.

Over the past few years, Friends has won multiple court battles against the coastal commission. Earlier this year, Friends prevailed in a motion to dismiss their lawsuit and were also granted a temporary restraining order against the commission.

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.

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