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02 • 16 • 2022

Surfrider and Partners Move to Intervene in a Lawsuit, in Protection of Oceano Dunes

By Staley Prom

The Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of the San Luis Obispo Chapter, together with the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Oceano Beach Community Association, Sierra Club, and San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper, has moved to join a lawsuit to defend the California Coastal Commission’s March 2021 decision phasing out off-highway vehicle (OHV) use at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Earlier this week, the groups filed a Motion to Intervene with the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. The action supports the California Coastal Commission’s authority to amend California State Parks’ coastal development permit for Oceano Dunes and Pismo State Beach, which would end OHV use by 2024, among other changes.  

The Oceano Dunes are a critical part of an 18-mile stretch of the Central California coastline that comprises the world’s largest intact coastal dune ecosystem. The dunes are sacred to the Indigenous Northern Chumash, and home to many rare and endangered species. Last year, the Commission approved substantial changes to the development permit, citing harms caused by vehicle use at the dunes to sensitive coastal habitats and threatened and endangered species, environmental justice concerns about impacting residents of the nearby communities of Oceano and Nipomo, and concerns for Tribal justice. The amendment includes phasing out OHVs at the dunes and limiting street legal vehicles to a one mile stretch of beach. This will protect habitat for endangered species, and allow the community to enjoy its beachfront.

Other groups representing off-road users filed multiple lawsuits against the Commission and State Parks. The lawsuits claim that the Commission’s action violates the California Environmental Quality Act, and its authority under the California Coastal Act and other state laws. Those cases were consolidated into the present lawsuit.   

Surfrider and our partners have significant interests in the preservation of the dunes, and in supporting the Commission’s action. Vehicle use has effectively turned this stretch of beach into a highway, making it unsafe to walk along the shore or sit and enjoy a beach picnic. The groups have moved to intervene in this case in defense of the Commission’s action to protect these significant interests. 

“Joining this case in defense of the Coastal Commission is critical to the Surfrider San Luis Obispo Chapter, which represents beachgoers who want to enjoy Oceano Dunes in low impact, non-motorized recreational pursuits,” says Brad Snook, of the Surfrider Foundation San Luis Obispo Chapter. “We and the community presently cannot do so, since vehicular traffic on the beach has effectively turned the sand into a highway.”

Surfrider and our partners are represented in this matter by the University of California Irvine School of Law Environmental Law Clinic.