Gov. Gavin Newsom last week vetoed a bill intended to create a path for protecting the 3,100-acre Tesla site, some 15 miles east of Livermore, by allowing it to be sold for conservation purposes instead of being turned into an off-road vehicle park.

The Governor’s action stunned and dismayed groups that have been working to protect Tesla. Tesla is located at the eastern boundary of Alameda County, adjacent to an existing off-road vehicle site called Carnegie which lies just across the San Joaquin County line.

Conservationists note that Carnegie’s deeply scarred surface, visible from Google Earth and other aerial photography, represents the future for Tesla that they are determined to prevent.

Both the Carnegie and Tesla sites are owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which has long planned to expand off-road opportunities into Tesla.

While the Governor’s veto upset conservationists, it pleased off-road enthusiasts such as members of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association and the American Motorcycle Association, who have fought for more places to ride off-highway.

The vetoed bill, AB 1086, was authored by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and co-authored by Senator Steve Glazer, who wrote an earlier version of the bill that was introduced in the Senate.

In response to the veto, Bauer-Kahan described herself as “extremely disappointed,” particularly because there seems to be no need for more off-road recreation area.

“We have seen a huge decline in use of the current (Carnegie) off-highway vehicle park, and after 20 years of litigation and non-use of the (Tesla) expansion area, there proves to be no need to see this land decimated,” she said.

She also pointed out that AB 1086 would have enabled, but not forced, the sale of Tesla for conservation purposes.

Criticism of Newsom came from Friends of Tesla Park, an umbrella organization that encompasses a wide range of environmental and conservation groups, and includes local and regional civic organizations that support protection for Tesla.

Newsom’s veto “betrays the environmental protection principals he ran on,” said a spokesperson for Friends of Tesla Park, adding that GoogleEarth photos of the Carnegie off-road vehicle park show what a “devastating fate” awaits Tesla.

Harsh Contrast

Those photos are of a moonscape, bare and desolate, in harsh contrast to Tesla, which is covered by the brush, trees and vegetation that serve as wildlife habitat in the rugged terrain at the county line.

Following the veto, Friends of Tesla Park sent a message to its members regretting the Governor's action and vowing to continue efforts “to permanently preserve Tesla with no OHV recreation use.” OHV stands for off-highway vehicle.

On a legal front, opponents of off-road expansion into Tesla have sued, challenging the adequacy of the Parks and Recreation Department’s environmental impact reviews.

They have complained that the state commission that reviewed and approved the proposed expansion was populated by off-roaders, not by impartial civil servants who saw their primary duty as protecting the interests of all California residents.

In explaining his veto, Newsom issued a statement that conservationists found bitterly ironic. The statement said that Tesla “was purchased for the benefit of all Californians and should remain a state park.”

Turning Tesla into an off-road vehicle park would do just the opposite of benefiting all Californians, the conservationists charged.

Only off-roaders enjoy an off-road vehicle park, they said. Hikers, bikers, horseback riders and families out to enjoy nature stay far away from an area dominated by noise, fast-moving vehicles and dust clouds raised by spinning tires.