Friends of Oceano Dunes wins another victory against Coastal Commission

March 16, 2023


Friends of the Oceano Dunes won another contentious legal battle against the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday. A judge denied the state’s motion for summary judgement in a quiet title lawsuit.

In an attempt to have portions of the Oceano Dunes dedicated for off-highway vehicle use, Friends of the Oceano Dunes filed a quiet title lawsuit on May 11, 2021. The suit argues that 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.

Attorneys for the Coastal Commission argued that other historical uses of the dunes such as horseback riding and clamming were more prevalent then off-highway vehicle use, which the state said were largely limited to holiday weekends in past decades.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Tana Coates rejected all of the state’s arguments and set the case for trial in Oct. 2023.

“The state does not show how each use would negate an element of Friends’ cause of action or provide a complete defense thereto,” Judge Coates wrote in her ruling. “The fact that the state contends that any implied dedication is broader than the one sought by Friends does not show that an implied dedication did not arise, or that Friends has no cause of action for quiet title.”

In March 2021, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to phase out off-road vehicle usage at the Oceano Dunes over the next three years and to ban nighttime vehicle riding at the Oceano Dunes. Friends has filed four lawsuits to overturn the commission action.

Friends’ quiet title lawsuit also alleges the Coastal Commission “abused its discretion” when it voted to stop off-road vehicle usage on land with an “implied dedication.”

More than a decade ago, the SLO County Air Pollution Control Board (APCD) first claimed it had tied off-road vehicle traffic at the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Area to higher levels of dust on the Nipomo Mesa, including a claim that the dust contained dangerous levels of toxic crystalline silica.

After 10 years of warning Nipomo residents of the dangers of silica dust, the APCD decided to run tests for silica in the air. The testing refuted the APCD’s earlier claims; concluding the dust blowing from the dunes did not contain dangerous levels of crystalline silica.

Because of the APCD-derived false concerns that silica from the dunes was harming the health of people living on the Mesa, Coastal Commission staff first showed interest in shuttering the off-road vehicle park.

In two other lawsuits filed in 2021, Friends accuses the Coastal Commission of violating laws and exceeding its authority when it voted to stop off-road vehicle recreation at the dunes.

Friends of the Oceano Dunes is a nonprofit that represents approximately 28,000 supporters of off-road recreation.

“Friends’ Board of Directors have made clear that Friends will continue to pursue all legal remedies to protect beach driving, camping and off-highway vehicle recreation at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area the way it has been occurring for the last 100 years,” Friends wrote in a press release.

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One thing is for sure, off-roaders and non-off roaders would get along a lot better at the dunes state park if it was managed better. Is there any other state park that has a worse, uglier entrance, potholes in the tiny parking lot, along with decrepit rusting buildings in the dunes with trash scattered all about?

And absolutely no efforts at the entrance to encourage park goers to respect the fragile portions of the park.

The lawyers who are trying to earn a living off of the litigation regarding the dunes, have also polarized the situation where no one seems willing to make a compromise that could allow vehicles to continue accessing a portion of the dunes far into the future.

Multi million dollar efforts to reduce the dust coming from the dunes have been ridiculous. As far as I can tell some of those efforts have actually increase the amount of dust being generated in the dunes!

Do the research, check everything out, and no matter what opinion you may have right now you will realize that you are dealing with a huge cluster or FUBU situation. Better management is called for.

I don’t consider this a win for anyone. Except, the lawyers. The attorney for friends of Oceano dunes seems to be expert at delaying the inevitable. There is no way that ultimately the courts will rule that the state does not have the right to decide how state property is used. Ultimately a losing strategy. But not for the attorney, who uses this cause to raise money for his own cause. If anyone can convince me otherwise, please try. Let the truth prevail.

“There is no way that ultimately the courts will rule that the state does not have the right to decide how state property is used.” why so?, in California a private property owner doesn’t have a right to decide how they want to use their property in many cases, plus isn’t there some policy that “No One” owns this states beach area, they all are owned by the people, thus the reason we have so many guaranteed public access paths.

State lands are publicly owned.

Too bad that lawyers have to be hired to do this work but that’s what it’s come down to.

The best way to limit Government is limit funding or taxes.

The Coastal Commision should be a part time group that oversees coastal access and the like, helping the public to enjoy the beaches not shutting down state parks to the public.

I’ve yet to see anyone clamming in the dunes except that first time Fresno or Buckersfield visitor.

LOL! My Dad used to call it “BuckOwensfield”!

I wonder if the Coastal Commission could stand a supreme court challenge….

or a vote of confidence from the people?

The Coastal Commission should be disbanded.

The coastal commission was established in a democratic process with the majority of California voters in support of the commission. To disband the commission by any means other than a vote of the people would thwart the democratic process and disenfranchise voters and would likely be ruled unconstitutional. It would also open up our coast line to unprecedented commercial development and limit access to portions of our seashore that are currently public.

This is the same CCC that forbid the owner of the land above Pirates cove, to limit or stop hikers from trespassing.

His concern was health and safety, and litigation should some dumb klutz fall off the mountain. CCC said health and safety wasn’t good enough. CCC also allowed many houses to be built on the ever eroding bluffs that create the cove, and the hundreds of homes on the very edge of Shell Beach cliffs.

Don’t even try to tell us the CCC wants to stop commercial development, or that they have the public interest at the foremost.

The California coastal commission regulates, coastal development in support of the public interest. It’s been that way ever since California voters established the commission in the 1970s, helping preserve so much of what makes California a great state, and a great place to visit or live thank God for the coastal commission

Ahhh. Then you agree, that the massive public interest in the dunes, is being able to drive on, and play, and camp. Thank you, for being receptive to reason!

In fact, as I stated above, I believe that if vehicles are to be used in a portion of the dunes, the entire park needs to be better managed. It’s currently a mess and run in a way that exacerbates problems.

“Friends of the Oceano Dunes'” job is only half done. Now someone needs to deal a legal fatal blow to the SLO Air Pollution Control District to prevent them from further extorting fines from California State Parks. One only needs to take a casual visit over to Transparent California to realize that SLOACPD could never make payroll (let alone even cover the salary of it’s Director alone) on it’s current income without a major “cash cow.” That cash cow used to be the Morro Bay Power Plant, which upon closure was almost immediately replaced by California State Parks (to the tune of $1000 per day over the now debunked “silica” pollution). The “original sin” of junk science by the APCD is what drew the interest of the Coastal Commission in the first place, and this saga of OHV harassment will not end until someone stops the APCD’s harassment of CA State Parks.