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Off-roaders, environmentalists face off at popular California state park

Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Oceano is an unincorporated community of about 7,800 that is 50% Latino, with about 1 in 5 residents below the federal poverty line.

"In my lifespan it's changed drastically, and our dunes can't take that amount of people and destruction," said Allene Villa, a lifelong Oceano resident who supports ending off-highway vehicle use at the park. "Look at other beach communities in California -- they're thriving. But ours isn't doing too well. It's only doing well for the off-roaders."

Off-roading proponents say the park draws so many visitors that it lifts up the local economy -- citing a parks-commissioned study that opponents criticize as inflated. They insist the off-road riders are the ones being discriminated against.

"The Coastal Commission is supposed to protect public access, but they are not considering OHV culture as a type of access they should protect," said Lyndi Love-Haning, part of an off-roading family that moved to the area four years ago to be closer to the dunes. "Under the guise of protecting low-income folks, they could shut down a whole community."

"There's this vision that we have no respect for the earth," she said. "But it's not this angry mob of folks that want to be lawless. The majority of us are just friends and families that want to follow the rules, hang out and make memories."

Regardless of what the Coastal Commission decides, pollution concerns are already requiring more riding areas be fenced off.

 

Air quality in the nearby Nipomo Mesa routinely exceeds state health standards for particulate matter when the wind blows across the dunes. Residents have long complained of a fine, talcum-like dust.

Under an order of abatement signed with air quality officials last year, state park operators agreed to reduce dust emissions from the dunes by 50%. That will require closing off more riding areas to make room for native dune vegetation, wind fences and straw bales -- dust control measures that could finally improve air quality in neighboring communities.

"We understand that they deserve to be able to recreate, but we deserve to breathe clean air," said Paul Stolpman, a retiree who has been fighting for action to curb the pollution since moving into the Trilogy at Monarch Dunes development downwind from the park over a decade ago.

There are also public safety concerns.

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