ELC Students Help Spur Coastal Commission Decision to End Off-Highway Vehicle Use at Oceano Dunes

After a nearly 40-year battle waged by local environmentalists, the California Coastal Commission issued a historic decision Thursday to phase-out off-highway vehicle use at Oceano Dunes in San Luis Obispo County.

Oceano Dunes is a unique and invaluable resource that lies on the lands and waters of the Northern Chumash tribe.  It is part of the largest intact dune ecosystem in the world and is home to two endangered shorebirds. Most of the dunes have been specially designated as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas, a highly protected category of land on which development is extremely limited and activities that are inconsistent with coastal resource protection are precluded.

ELC represented the Dunes Alliance, a group of local community, tribal, and environmental organizations, in their advocacy to end off-highway vehicle use and restore the dunes.  ELC students Mikaela Pyatt and Taylor Jaszewski prepared a detailed written legal analysis to the Coastal Commission and presented oral comments at a 12-hour Coastal Commission hearing.  The analysis detailed not only how off-highway vehicle use is incompatible with the provisions of the Coastal Act, but also showed that the Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Act (OHV Act) mandates that off-roading areas must be closed when soil conservation and wildlife protection standards are not being met.  As Mikaela Pyatt persuasively argued to the Coastal Commission, “when there is damage to natural resources (from OHV use) … the OHV Act mandates permanent closure for restoration … There is no conflict between what the Coastal Commission staff is recommending today and what the Legislature intended when it passed the OHV Act.”

Two Commissioners specifically acknowledged Stanford Law School’s legal analysis in their deliberations, noting that the analysis of whether the OHV Act mandated off-highway vehicle use was particularly helpful in their decision.  The Commission unanimously concluded that off-highway vehicle use is incompatible with the resource protection requirements in the Coastal Act and voted to shut down off-roading within three years.

“This issue has deep historical roots and emotional importance for so many people,” ELC student Taylor Jaszewski noted, “We are thrilled to play a role in ensuring that this critical habitat is restored and protected.”

ELC Students Help Spur Coastal Commission Decision to End Off-Highway Vehicle Use at Oceano Dunes 2
Mikaela Pyatt (JD ’22) presenting at the March 18 Special Coastal Commission Hearing on Oceano Dunes.