A public meeting in Tracy next month will explore the future of off-highway vehicle recreation in an area at the border of Alameda and San Joaquin Counties where off-road enthusiasts and conservationists have been doing battle.
The meeting is scheduled to take place from 6-8 p.m. June 10 at Tracy High School, 315 11th St. in Tracy. It is organized by the division of the California Parks Department that promotes off-highway vehicle recreation.
At issue are the environmental and recreational futures of hilly parcels of land, both owned by the California Parks Department. Carnegie is a 1,600-acre site for off-road vehicles, with scarred landscapes and the noise of revving motors audible from nearby Corral Hollow Road, especially on weekends when the site is heavily used.
Next door to the west is Tesla, a 3,400-acre site where 1,500 residents lived a century ago, mining one of California’s richest coal seams. Today, it is the quiet home of a wide range of wildlife, including species that are protected under state and federal law.
The June 10 meeting is billed as an opportunity for public input to Carnegie’s general plan, which calls for expanding off-road activities into Tesla. The California Parks Department’s Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division expects to present three alternative possibilities, taking public commentary as it moves toward a final plan later this year.
Opponents of the proposed use of the Tesla site believe that the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division “didn’t do due diligence” when it bought the Tesla property and now is trying to avoid legally mandated environmental reviews that it can't pass because the reviews will show it to be unsuitable for off-road recreation.
The issue, according to the Division's draft plans, is not whether to expand but how to do so most effectively.
A comparable public input meeting was held a year ago at Livermore’s Doubletree Inn. At that time, Joe Ramos, a superintendent working for the Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division, said he hoped “people will consider how” the expansion can be carried out, “not just for or against it.”
It is just this kind of promotion of the off-road activity that worries conservationists, who think the Parks Department’s role should be protecting the natural environment – enforcing state and federal environmental laws – before anything else. The conservationists stress that they are not opposing continued operation of Carnegie but merely want to keep it from expanding into and damaging the pristine Tesla area.
For off-road enthusiasts, the basic question being raised in a continuing series of public meetings, of which Tracy’s is only the latest, is whether they can find room to pursue the sport they enjoy.
Although recent surveys have shown declining numbers of off-roaders using the public parks established for them by the state, they claim to need more acreage to drive vehicles that in some cases cannot legally be used on the state’s highways.
They are supported in their expansion efforts by national organizations that promote motorized sports, including the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the American Motorcycle Association and the California Off-Road Vehicle Association.
In its online newsletter, found at www.sharetrails.org/, the Blue Ribbon Coalition refers to expansion opponents as “extreme” and “green.”
Don Amador, the Blue Ribbon Commission’s California representative, said in an email that expanding into Tesla is consistent both with state law and with the charter of the Parks Department to sustain and enhance opportunities for off-highway vehicle recreation.
It will “help serve the approximately 28,000 registered non-street legal OHVs registered in Contra Costa and Alameda counties and provide touring opportunities for residents who own street legal OHVs such as SUVs and other 4x4 vehicles,” he wrote.
The main organization that wants to keep Tesla from becoming another Carnegie is Livermore-based Friends of Tesla Park. Its website, www.teslapark.org/, lists local and national organizations that support its goals, including Friends of the Vineyards, Tri Valley Trail Blazers Association, Ohlone Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and others.
For them, the question is not whether the expansion is consistent with some vaguely worded document that encourages a state agency to look for chances to enhance off-highway vehicle recreation. The issue is that if it happens, they are convinced, Tesla’s undisturbed environment will be savaged by spinning tires, oil leaks and noise just the way Carnegie’s has been.
They point to the rutted landscape of Carnegie, visible from nearby Corral Hollow Road but even more dramatic in 16 frames of Google Maps satellite photos on their website, as the reality that awaits Tesla if expansion occurs.
Both sides of the dispute believe they are in the right. The off-roaders point out that their taxes and fees have not only paid for their activities but also supported a trust fund for land acquisition by the Parks Department’s Off Highway Division. They say they have outgrown Carnegie and should be able to expand into the Tesla property that the Division bought some 15 years ago for that purpose.
For their part, Friends of Tesla Park deny such a simple logic. “Just because they bought the land doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want with it,” said Celeste Garamendi, a founding member of Friends of Tesla Park, in an interview. “If you bought land in a residential subdivision, that doesn’t mean you could put a gas station there.”
In a letter earlier this month to Parks Department director Anthony Jackson, the Friends of Tesla Park steering committee, including Garamendi and others, called for the Department to “permanently protect and preserve Tesla” as a “unique and special landscape (with) natural and cultural resources. . . protected for all Californians today and in the future.”