Friends of Oceano Dunes accuses Tribune of defamation, demands retraction

August 1, 2022

By KAREN VELIE

Friends of Oceano Dunes has told the SLO Tribune that it wants a retraction and apology for an article accusing the group of conducting an illegal fundraiser. The group sent a letter demanding the retraction and notifying the newspaper that it could sue for libel.

“The article contains false and defamatory statements about Friends of Oceano Dunes (Friends) and we are demanding that you issue a retraction regarding the defamatory statement contained in that article, on paper, on your website, on social media and elsewhere,” according to the retraction demand. “We demand a public apology identifying your false and misleading statements and publish it to the front page of your paper and social media.”

After the California Department of Justice received information about an alleged online raffle that possibly violated the law, the Justice Department sent a letter through the mail dated July 19, informing Friends about the legal requirements for raffles. Included in the letter was a section of Penal Code 320.5, which prohibits online raffles.

Before Friends knew about or received the DOJ letter, the Tribune had already obtained a copy.

In a July 21 email, Tribune reporter Mackenzie Shuman gave Friends a July 22 at 2 p.m. deadline to respond, a deadline that expired before Friends received the letter.

On July 25, the Tribune published, “Friends of Oceano Dunes illegally fundraised to pay for court battles against California, DOJ says.”

Friends says the headline is both false and defamatory because neither the DOJ letter nor DOJ staff referred to the fundraiser as illegal.

The DOJ Press Office said they are not permitted to comment on the legality of the Friends’ fundraiser.

“The letter is all we are able to share at this time,” the DOJ Press Office emailed CalCoastNews. “To protect its integrity, we are unable to comment on, even to confirm or deny, a potential or ongoing investigation.”

After reading the letter, Friends replied to the DOJ saying it was not operating an online raffle. The organization also told the DOJ that it did work with BetterWorld, a group that conducts online fundraising for nonprofits. BetterWorld “oversaw a sweepstakes giveaway, which allowed recipients to receive a ticket with or without a donation.”

Friends said that because they complied with all requirements for an exemption including not requiring participants to pay for a chance to win, the sweepstakes did not violate Penal Code 320.5.

In addition to the story and headline, Shuman also posted her allegations on Twitter.

“The group broke the law when it raised $46,000 for legal battles to keep off-road riding at the Oceano Dunes, state prosecutors said,” Shuman tweeted on July 25.

A Friends supporter, who tweets under the name “Renee,” chastised Shuman on Twitter for not considering if the fundraiser was exempt.

Shuman replied that the fundraiser was not exempt, because recipients were required to pay for tickets.

“No they weren’t,” Renee responded. “I had at least 5 free entries along with ones I paid for.”

Shuman thanked Renee for the information, noting she planned to update her story, according to a July 25 tweet. Shuman, however, did not change the headline that claims Friends operated an illegal fundraiser.

“All evidence suggests Mackenzie Shuman determined on her own that conduct was ‘illegal,’ because the DOJ has not made that comment in their letter or in recent discussions,” according to the retraction demand.

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.

The group has been involved in an ongoing battle over particulate pollution on the Nipomo Mesa. For more than a decade, San Luis Obispo County’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD) claimed that 100 percent of the dust particles blowing over the Nipomo Mesa are the result of off-roading at the Oceano Dunes. The APCD has subsequently admitted the assertion was incorrect.

Based on the claim that 100 percent of the dust blowing on the mesa is from the Oceano Dunes, in March 2021, the Coastal Commission voted unanimously to phase out off-road vehicle usage at the Oceano Dunes over three years.

Friends 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.

During the past six years, Friends has successfully sued the Coastal Commission, the California Air Resources Board and the APCD approximately 10 times over the agencies’ regulatory actions related to the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Area.

Friends president Jim Suty said he is concerned that the Tribune’s article could bias local judges involved with multiple ongoing lawsuits.

“The Tribune has not acted in good faith, has not upheld to its stated, ‘Code of Ethics’ and has continued their deliberate attack on Friends of Oceano Dunes,” according to the retraction demand. “This deliberate, habitual, unethical, and malicious act will not be tolerated, and we reserve all rights to remedy damage done to our good name.”


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GreatGuy

I have lots of gratitude for The Tribune and it’s staff and their mission. It is increasingly rare for a community our size to have a daily paper. Anyone who claims that our community would be better off and healthier without the Tribune doing what it does, does not appreciate how important journalism is to a small community like this. The Tribine is in general edited well. Over the past few decades have made relatively few factual errors, despite the rigors and deadlines of daily journalism where deadlines are vital.


robdadbod

I’m downvoting this. Unless it’s sarcasm I didn’t pick up on.


SLO Friend

Unlikely for a retraction, why report on what happened if it doesn’t further your goal. Doesnt fit their paradigm. Just as they will continue to support hill’s cronies like paavo oogren, bob vessely, susan devine, bruce gibson, dawn ortiz legg, and the list goes on.


kayaknut

I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a retraction, the Tribune still thinks Adam Hill was the most honest politician in SLO county.


GreatGuy

The problem is not OHV enthusiasts or environmentalists. The problem is the dunes and related state park are being mismanaged.


kevin rise

Keep Jesus out of the Dunes, and Recreational vehicles of rich folks who value momentary pleasure over sustained diligence and sacrifice. Let them eat cake, says the low brow gasoline non electric motor based industrialists of yesteryears soon to face a cancerous demise of carcinogen exposure as well as unprecedented parkinson’s and dementia due to toxic Petro chemicals. Make hemp fishing line and copper hooks dear Lord!


GreatGuy

The bottom line is that, one way or another , lawyers have been milking OHV enthusiasts for years. Fact is, if the park was managed better, it would not be this huge controversy and there could remain an Area designated for OHV. It’s really a management issue. The entire dune area is horribly managed.


Darrell Queen

I believe everyone should stop reading/subscribing to that malicious slanderous rag….Oh wait never mind.


NorthCountyGuy

The Fibune needs to go bankrupt, soonest.


kevin rise

I say put it all back in tribal hands, take the deeds back or homestead permits of stolen land, bet local tribal council would donate it and let everyone use it sustainably and recreationally. My riff here is, luxury recreation is less valuable of an economic asset in all forms vs the land as an indigenous native ecosystem to use; ie, clams, fish, hiking, camping, birding, foraging etc, “maybe surfing; which is also a new luxury recreation and interferes with food gathering,; fishing, seaweed beds etc”. Clams are worth quite a bit, so are our fish,and ocean, as a tool to live by and with. Alot of money being tossed around here in lawsuits over free speech, which is all so dicey. But legal, if you can afford of lawyer, for whatever reason, God bless you. A tribe in big sur, and Joseph Oregon, did just this recently. Gave Their land back to the public vs steal it, ruin it flamboyantly piss drunk with toxic vehicles, parties, trash, unhoused; a failing societies problem, etc


Kevin Rice

You give back your home first. We’re watching. Go ahead.


kevin rise

NP, volunteer with the CCC, Beaver Brigade, local NFP, helping the local un-housed vets etc, working on my public service career to help people who are injured, working with other NFP helping conserve local land and water. I’m not a fetishist, so I look at life on a matrix with cost benefit ideals, rationally and empathetically speaking, taking into consideration there are an infinite number of galaxies around us harboring life too.


kevin rise

I rent, also Kevin, by slum lords who piggy back off slavery and genocide. It’s called history.


Florian75

Well, if the Oceano Dunes should be returned to tribal hands as a native natural ecosystem, I suggest we also return Los Osos to tribal hands so they can restore the indigenous natural ecosystem that will once again support a thriving Grizzly Bear population.


GreatGuy

Nice thought, but the California grizzly bear species is extinct. We killed every single one of them. Oops.


kevin rise

You are speaking of something dating back past the Spanish genocide of America, not including French, British and Portuguese, to ever see a grizzly here again. Los Osos has been inhabited for 10 thousand years by indigenous along with cataclysmic events such as asteroid impacts. One nice thing, the start of the Pacific rain forest is near big sur! An ancient landmark in a look back thousands of years ago, the old local redwood forest exists, hence Redwood city.