Oceano Dunes restraining order exposes county staff’s overreach

March 9, 2022

Oceano Dunes dust mitigation fencing


A San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order last month stopping the state from installing additional dust control measures at the Oceano Dunes and exposing county staff’s support of relinquishing permitting authority to the California Coastal Commission.

Friends of the Oceano Dunes filed a lawsuit in January accusing the coastal commission of overstepping its permitting authority over the state park and for continuing to require voided dust control measures. Friends then asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order based on the likelihood they will win in court.

A court ruling late last year invalidated the SLO County Air Pollution Control District’s (APCD) agreement to implement its dust rule. Formally called Rule 1001, the dust rule requires state parks to reduce the particulate matter blowing from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area or face fines of $1,000 per day.

The lawsuit questions the coastal commission’s authority to issue a permit without consent from the SLO County Board of Supervisors. According to the Coastal Act, after a county has it own local coastal program, the county has authority over permitting, though county supervisors can relinquish that authority.

In this case, the coastal commission contends it was granted authority over permitting the Oceano Dunes in a Dec. 21, 2012 letter from Nancy Orton, a former SLO County planner. Plaintiffs argue that the planner did not have standing to grant the coastal commission permitting authority.

In a declaration to the court, SLO County Planning Department Director Trevor Keith explains he is not taking a side in the lawsuit, before noting his support for relinquishing authority through the consolidated permit process. While relinquishing the county’s permitting authority can impair the the SLO County Board Of Supervisors and public’s ability to participate in the process, it does free up county staff’s time.

“It is further my understanding that the underlying purpose of the 2012 consolidated request to the California Coastal Commission was to provide an expedited and far more efficient process for state parks to use for the dust control projects as required by the APCD,” according to Keith’s declaration.

In regards to the Oceano Dunes, three of the county supervisors, Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong, have shown support for keeping the vehicle recreation park open. On the other side, Supervisor Bruce Gibson has fought for years to shutter the park. Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg told CalCoastNews she is not taking a position on the issue at this time.

For more than a decade, San Luis Obispo County’s Air Pollution Control District has claimed that 100% of the dust particles blowing on the Nipomo Mesa are the result of off-roading at the Oceano Dunes.

In its request for a temporary restraining order, Friends also provided new evidence from the prestigious Scripps Institution of Oceanography that shows that only 14% of the particles blowing on the mesa consist of mineral dust. In other words, the vehicle park is not to blame for bad air quality on the mesa.

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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It would make sense that county staff would defer or relinquish permit authority over State Parks for the following reasons:

a) the original temporary exemption from CEQA requirements allowing the operation of the park was issued by the CCC, not the county.

b) the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over either the park proper or the nuisance dust issue. The county has control over the access to the park over a strip of county owned land, and the APCD has jurisdiction over the claimed nuisance pollution

c) the county has a dismal track record of permit condition enforcement

d) permit approval by the county for projects within the coastal zone is subject to CCC review, with some approvals conditionally appealable to the CCC.

e) if a project has a history of permit review/approval by the CCC, it makes little sense to argue that the county should be doing any subsequent reviews of the project, as the county’s action is potentially appealable to the CCC (in this case, certainly appealable). To argue otherwise (as the author is implying) is to at least double the amount of staff time & board time, in other words the duplication of effort would be a (further) waste of taxpayer money, something the current county board majority is not shy about pursuing

Rarely in life is anything 100% absolute, so when the APCD claims that “100% of the dust particles blowing on the Nipomo Mesa are the result of off-roading at the Oceano Dunes” you know something is just NOT right.

“For more than a decade, San Luis Obispo County’s Air Pollution Control District has claimed that 100% of the dust particles blowing on the Nipomo Mesa are the result of off-roading at the Oceano Dunes.” -So pretty much since the Morro Bay power plant closed, and the APCD needed a new cash cow to justify (and pay for) their existence