State Parks will close portion of Oceano Dunes to vehicles by end of year, director says

The director of California State Parks on Monday committed to banning camping and vehicles from a section of the shoreline on the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area by the end of the year to comply with orders to reduce air pollution.

The announcement came at the beginning of an Air Pollution Control District Hearing Board meeting in San Luis Obispo County, convened because San Luis Obispo County air quality regulators allege State Parks violated a stipulated order of abatement. State Parks had said that it would fence off around 48 acres near the shoreline, but had not committed to a timeline until Monday.

The closure wouldn’t likely result in complete relief from harmful particulate matter that blows from the off-highway vehicle park to the Nipomo Mesa. It will be one of the first mitigation projects in a stipulated abatement order to reduce dust emissions from the park 50% by 2023, and one that scientists say is essential.

The community regularly experiences plumes of dust from the Oceano Dunes that violate air quality standards dozens of times a year.

“(A scientific advisory group) have recommended changes to the park that they counsel are necessary to improve the air quality of the local community,” State Parks Director Lisa Mangat said at the hearing in Arroyo Grande.

“I wanted to come in person today, so that you have my commitment that we are agreeing to make those changes,” she said.

“The most impactful change, just to make it abundantly clear, as of Jan. 1, we would no longer allow vehicles on approximately 50 acres along the shoreline, commonly referred to as the foredunes,” Mangat said.

The closure would cut popular camping space by 50 percent and reduce the off-highway vehicle riding area by less than 5%.

Faced with being found in violation of clean air rules, State Parks agreed to a stipulated order of abatement In May 2018. The order called for State Parks to work with a scientific advisory group to submit annual work plans detailing how the agency would mitigate dust emissions from the Oceano Dunes SVRA. Those work plans had to be approved by the scientists and the county Air Pollution Control district.


The Air Pollution Control District asked the hearing board to intervene because it alleged that State Parks violated the order because the work plan did not include scientific recommendations to fence off 48 acres near the shoreline. That area is believed to emit the most dust in the area.

OHV riders lobbied to keep all riding areas open, as they’ve seen the park shrink over the years in response to environmental protections for the snowy plover and for temporary dust mitigation.

This would be the first closure in the popular shoreline area and State Parks initially rejected the idea because of potential impact to snowy plover shorebirds and because it would negatively affect users’ experiences, according to Dan Canfield, director of OHV Division of State Parks.

Riders said that residents of Nipomo Mesa don’t have the right to complain because real estate agents have to disclose the air-quality problem before a house in the area is purchased.

At the same time, several residents of Nipomo Mesa and Oceano requested larger and more immediate closures to reduce dust emissions that threaten public health. Some criticized the hearing board for failing to protect them. 

Not all hearing board members were satisfied with the plan.

Board member Robert Carr said the plan was just “kicking the can down the road.”

Carr made a motion at the meeting to declare Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area a nuisance, order the much-larger La Grande Tract to be closed and bring the downwind community into compliance with all state air-quality standards within two years.

No one on the five-person board seconded his motion.

In response, Carr said, “My spine is the only one that’s up here. And it’s in pretty poor condition.”

Hearing board Chairman Yarrow Nelson said he thinks “this stipulated process is working.”

“It hit a hiccup when State Parks’ work plans were not up to the requirements of the SAG,” Nelson said. “With the modifications we’ve made here, I think we’re making good progress.”

A new Public Works Plan for the Oceano Dunes that could redesign the park may result in new riding areas opening up, Mangat said. The next public meetings about the plan will be held in Arroyo Grande and Bakersfield in December.

[This article was originally published by The Tribune.]