Oceano Dunes off-roading enthusiasts win another round

January 5, 2022


A San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday in favor of a group working to establish a public right to off-road vehicle recreation on the Oceano Dunes.

SLO County Superior Court Judge Tana Coates rejected a motion filed by the California Coastal Commission and other government agencies to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to dedicate portions of the Oceano Dunes to off-road vehicle recreation and camping. In March 2020, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to phase out off-road vehicle usage at the Oceano Dunes over a three-year period.

Friends of the Oceano Dunes then filed a quiet title lawsuit in May 2020 against multiple state and local government agencies. Friends’ lawsuit also alleges the Coastal Commission “abused its discretion” when it voted to stop off-road vehicle usage on land with an “implied dedication.”

According to Friends’ lawsuit, because off-road vehicle enthusiasts have recreated on the dunes for more than five years without asking or receiving permission and without objection, they have the right to continue driving and camping on the dunes. People began driving on the dunes decades before three defendants named in the lawsuit — California State Parks, the County of San Luis Obispo and the California Department of General Services — purchased the property.

The Coastal Commission and several other state agencies responded with a motion asking the court to throw out Friends’ lawsuit based on a lengthy list of legal and policy arguments, including:

1. After a government entity acquires a property, the public has no right to implied dedication.

2. Friends did not state sufficient facts to constitute a cause of action because it cannot escape regulation under the police power, including under the Coastal Act.

3. The Coastal Commission’s impending off-roading ban does not stop the public from recreating on the dunes. The public’s right is not limited only to off-highway vehicle use.

4. In response to Friends’ allegations the Coastal Commission abused its discretion, the commission’s motion argues that even if the public obtained an easement for recreational use and even if such an easement had not merged with the fee title, the rights under that easement are subject to state and federal regulations.

During Wednesday’s hearing on the motion to dismiss, Judge Coates rejected all of the state’s arguments and set the case for trial in March 2023.

Friends’ of the Dunes President Jim Suty is currently taking depositions from people who drove sandrails and dune buggies on the Oceano Dunes during the 1950s and the 1960s. Suty is asking “duners” during those years to contact him at (805) 994-9309.

“Friends will continue to pursue all legal remedies to protect beach driving, camping and off-highway vehicle recreation at Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area the way it has been occurring for the last 100 years,” Suty said.

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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I’ve always rooted for the dune buggy crowd. Their regular occupation of that beach keeps the town of Oceano and Grover Beach small and relatively run-down. If they eliminated the dunes campers, more upscale development would surely move in and make the whole place a lot more expensive—as they have done in Nipomo with sprawling golf courses and tract houses. Oceano hasn’t changed in years and I hope it stays that way.

Of course the recent dust warning for the mesa was totally caused by off-road vehicles…. wait, what? It was a natural occurrence? And the mesa is built on sand over thousands of years of ….what? natural occurrences? You mean the Chumash didn’t ride four wheelers? Good grief.

Any way you look at it there’s got to be a cap on the number of vehicles and campers allowed in the dunes. It’s my humble opinion that if the park had been managed better over these years we wouldn’t be having this huge controversy that is making lawyers rich by milking it for every cent they can get.

How about a cap on the number of people and houses built in the down wind area from the dunes?

Re-open the park to the size it was before, there will be fewer accidents when people aren’t packed on top of one another.

Establishing a property right though prescription is interesting. As the article said, Suty is taking depositions from people who drove on the Oceano Dunes during the 1950s and the 1960s (805) 994-9309. Step Up!

Oceano and Samoa Dunes are the only places in the state, that I know of, to ride along the beach. This cannot be allowed?!?! Give me a break.

One compromise solution would be to allow vehicles in the dunes but to greatly reduce the number on any given day through a lottery system, similar to lottery systems used for limiting the number of people rafting down the Colorado river.

As it is now, especially on the big holiday weekends, there are too many people using the dunes for management to handle properly.

I believe what exists is already a compromise solution. Vehicles were originally allowed on the beach all over the state. Now they are only allowed at ONE beach in the entire state, the Pismo/Oceano dunes. I say that people who don’t like the offroad vehicles should simply enjoy one of the other hundreds of beaches California offers. That seems like a fair compromise to me, offroaders get one beach without restrictions, everyone else can visit the hundreds of others.

I’m happy to hear this….If you are into forcing thousands of people to give up what they call fun then you should be willing to do the same…otherwise you are just a bully….everyone’s actions in life are scrutable…if you think you are above that then you are wrong…let them enjoy their lives and you enjoy yours….

I voted for Prop 9 ( the Coastal Act) a long time ago to keep the California Coast from becoming Marina Del Ray from San Diego to the oregon boundary; I did not vote for an agency that has become as all-powerful as it believes it is. The Coastal commission has exceeded what the voters were told it would be. It is time to remove many of the self-obtained authority that the Coastal commission believes it has.

Well Mitch, if you give a mouse a cookie…

You are correct sir, the Coastal Commission is like no other in California. Not only does it do whatever it wants, however it wants, it has over and over again expanded its authority by its own actions.

There was a time when Sarah Wan wanted to take control of the State Water Project because the Delta eventually empties into the ocean, so therefore it is Coastal Commission jurisdiction, she argued.

Imagine, a small band of zealots taking control over the State’s water supply, which supplies water to some 25 million people and irrigation water to 750,000 acres of productive farmland.

I once asked Katcho when he was on the Commission, how is it that they are able to appeal local decisions to themselves, lending a Commissioner’s name on the appeal, have the staff that filed the appeal in the first place study the issues, and then the same Commissioner(s) on the appeal sit in judgement of that appeal?

It would seem to be an inherent conflict of interest. But he said, while he agreed with me, it was actually written into the Coastal Act by Peter Douglas, the guy who wrote the Coastal Act and then became its director for life.

Originally, the CCC’s jurisdiction went from the high tide line to the first public road. And now, they claim jurisdiction over whole communities and watersheds.

They also “interpret” the Coastal Act with every project that comes to them, so the bar is constantly being shifted upward and the reach of the Commission expanded.

The Commission’s powers need to be pulled back to just statewide issues, seeing as every coastal city and county has a local coastal program in place that lays down the rules for development, coupled with the myriad of agencies and laws that have to be adhered to each and every time, it’s making California unworkable.

I’ve said it before, the U.S. is a nation of laws — starting with the Constitution, then Acts of Congress, then federal regulations approved by bureaucracies, then to the State Constitutions, State laws and regulations, to County and City ordinances, and all the way down to the local CSD.

It’s a matrix of laws that weaves itself into a blanket that is smothering us.