Friends of Oceano Dunes files third lawsuit against off-roading ban

May 11, 2021

Friends of Oceano Dunes, a local nonprofit whose goal is to continue vehicular access at the dunes, filed a third lawsuit May 11 against the California Coastal Commission’s decision to phase out off-road vehicles at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

The new lawsuit is known as a “quiet title” action, which would establish ownership of the property, thus “quieting” any claims or challenges to the property’s title if successful.

Friends of Oceano Dunes is arguing that, since the Oceano Dunes area was used by off-road vehicles before the land was owned by the public, that use created an implied dedication for off-road vehicle recreation and camping.

This lawsuit alleges that under state law, no agency — including the Coastal Commission or State Parks — can prohibit off-roading vehicles at the dunes.

The initial decision by the Coastal Commission to phase out vehicular access on the dunes comes after nearly four decades of contention between environmentalists and advocates for vehicular access.

Two other lawsuits filed in April are also in opposition to the Coastal Commission’s March 18 decision to ban off-highway vehicles at the dunes over the next three years.

Friends of Oceano Dunes President Jim Suty said these lawsuits are meant to keep the commission in check and ensure they are following the right protocols.

“These lawsuits are intended to make sure they do everything procedurally correct by the laws and the statutes,” Suty said.

If successful, the lawsuits would reverse the Coastal Commission’s decision and provide damages to the affected organizations, including Friends of Oceano Dunes.

The other two lawsuits also allege that the Coastal Commission violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Coastal Act.

According to Suty, more lawsuits will soon be filed against the Coastal Commission’s decision.

“My family has been doing this for 60 years,” Suty said. “We’re always painted by the other side as these killers who want to go run over endangered species and don’t care about anyone else, and that’s the farthest from the truth.”

According to the Coastal Commission’s Central Coast District Supervisor, Kevin Kahn, the Coastal Commission's decision was made due to a number of reasons relating to preservation of endangered species at the dunes, environmental justice issues and tribal concerns.