The Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division of California State Parks manages the State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRAs).
More than 20 years ago, the OHMVR Division purchased land in eastern Alameda County along the Tesla-Corral Hollow Road. Their plan was to use the land (“Tesla”) as an expansion area for the adjacent Carnegie SVRA. Unfortunately, they purchased the land without conducting a pre-acquisition environmental impact report (EIR) that would have revealed the richness of Tesla’s natural and cultural resources and the inappropriateness of using such land for OHV recreation.
Tesla lies southeast of Livermore within the Diablo Range and serves as a linkage corridor for wildlife, connecting the southern Diablo Range to Mount Diablo. Tesla also sits at the junction of the climatic influences of the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Desert, increasing its biological diversity and unique species assemblages. Tesla is located within our CNPS East Bay Chapter’s Corral Hollow Biological Priority Protection Area.
Tesla’s varied landscape supports a number of sensitive botanical features recognized by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 13 special status plants and at least seven sensitive natural communities. In addition, CNPS East Bay’s rare plant inventory for Alameda and Contra Costa counties lists over 200 rare and unusual plants from the Corral Hollow area that surrounds Tesla, including big tarplant (Blepharizonia plumosa) and Hospital Canyon larkspur (Delphinium californicum ssp. interius).
EIRs and Legal Challenges
Since 2000, the OHMVR Division has started three EIR processes in attempts to get approval under the California Environmental Quality Act to use Tesla for OHV recreation. The first two EIR attempts were abandoned when it was identified that the project would require significant mitigation given impacts on plants and wildlife. For the third attempt, the OHMVR Division used a “program EIR” that allowed them to defer detailing the impacts of OHV use and necessary mitigations to compensate for those impacts. Despite the serious inadequacies of this EIR, it was adopted by the OHMVR Commission in 2016. Immediately after the OHMVR adopted the inadequate EIR and General Plan, Alameda County, Friends of Tesla Park, and Connolly Ranch filed three separate lawsuits challenging the EIR and General Plan.
On January 12 of this year, the Sacramento County Superior Court handed down its ruling on Alameda County’s petition. The court held that State Parks erred in their interpretation of the statute governing the use of OHV land and the OHV trust fund. State Parks had argued that the land and the funds could only be used for OHV recreation purposes (for example, it could not be used for non-motorized recreation, conservation, or restoration). The court rejected that interpretation.
Further, because State Parks relied on a faulty interpretation of the statute, the court ruled that the EIR violated CEQA because it improperly constrained the project objective, failed to examine non-motorized alternative uses, and unlawfully delayed a review of the project’s environmental impacts by using a program EIR instead of addressing the site-specific uses described in the General Plan:
…there is no evidence that Respondents meaningfully considered the alternatives under the appropriate statutory directives.… The administrative record demonstrates that the entirety of Respondents’ project objectives, consideration of alternatives, response to comments, etc. relied on this erroneous interpretation of the law in crafting the EIR and its analysis.
The court held that the misinterpretation of the statute was a critical error, rendering the EIR invalid:
This pervasive error makes it virtually impossible for the Court to parse out specific sections of the EIR that have been impacted and are therefore legally incorrect. Accordingly, on this error alone, the Court finds the EIR is invalid and cannot be used to support the subject project.
What Happens Now?
The court will issue a Writ of Mandate, requiring State Parks to set aside the EIR and General Plan. State Parks cannot move ahead on the project until it complies with CEQA.
We don’t know how State Parks will respond to this ruling. If they decide to continue with their plan for OHV use at Tesla, they’ll have to re-start the CEQA process (new EIR, hearings, public comment period, etc.).
There is far a better option available though, and it’s one that aligns with State Parks’ mission “to provide for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.” That better option is to redesignate Tesla as a nature and cultural preserve with non-motorized recreation.
The court’s ruling makes it clear—Tesla Park can be saved. Now we have to convince Governor Newsom, Natural Resources Secretary Crowfoot, and State Parks Director Quintero to do it.
Right now you can help build on the momentum to save Tesla Park:
- Sign and share the Sierra Club petition asking Governor Newsom to redesignate Tesla for non-motorized use.
- Sign up for updates from Friends of Tesla Park to stay informed and receive action alerts.
— Beth Wurzburg for the Conservation Committee, CNPS East Bay Chapter