Tesla 07-23-20 130

REGIONAL — The latest legislative attempt to preserve the 3,100-acre Tesla Park site near Livermore from use as an off-road vehicle park has moved forward in the California Assembly.

Lawmakers on the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife committee voted 11-4 April 26 to send Democratic Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s bill to protect the land from motorized vehicles, AB1512, to the body’s Appropriations Committee.

The vote with all Democrats voting for the bill and all Republicans against followed testimony from representatives of Sierra Club California, the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), and the California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA).

“Tesla Park’s rugged terrain provides an unusual crossroad for a wide range of sensitive species who rely on this protective habitat as a wildlife corridor,” EBRPD Board President Dee Rosario told the committee. “The beautiful biodiversity of this land implores us to save it to honor the heritage of the Native American Yokuts and Ohlone/Costanoan peoples who lived on and cared for their families in the South Livermore Valley and atop the ridge.”

Diana Mead, assistant Northern regional director for legislation for CORVA, countered that the controversy was not about the environment, facts or science.

“It is about money, political power, the stature of State Parks and the incredibly successful conservation efforts that have been completely ignored,” Mead said. “It is easier to paint this as a good conservation vs. bad off-roaders, because most of us can only take an action we know is inherently wrong if we can somehow demonize the other side.”

Bauer-Kahan's bill is one of two currently in the state legislature aiming to keep the land about 15 miles east of Livermore as open space. Tri-Valley Sen. Steve Glazer has authored similar legislation in the Senate.

AB 1512 would require the California Parks and Recreation department to “preserve, in perpetuity” the portion of the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area known as the Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area for conservation purposes, including non-motorized public recreation. The bill would put $9 million in the Off-Highway Motorized Vehicle Trust Fund.

The bill would not touch the Carnegie site where off-roading is currently allowed.

For decades, the status of Tesla Park has remained controversial and the subject of lawsuits. The state’s Parks department owns both sites and has planned to expand the Carnegie site’s off-roading into the Tesla area.

Environmental groups and Alameda County sued to stop it in 2016. Opponents of off-roading contend the land located about 15 miles east of Livermore along Tesla Road is home to native plants, threatened and endangered species, protected birds, and a critical wildlife habitat. They contend motorized vehicles will scar the land once inhabited by Native Americans and destroy sacred sites. Proponents for expanding off-roading say that while the Carnegie site is excellent for motorcycle riders, there is no motorized access on trails for the disabled, and no place for four-wheel drive utility task vehicles to operate.

The off-road expansion seemed headed to reality in 2019 when Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the most recent attempt by Bauer-Kahan and Glazer to stop it. That legislation would have required the EBRPD to sell the Tesla site for conservation purposes. Newsom said it should remain a state park.

That decision pleased Mead’s organization and the American Motorcycle Association, which were looking for more places to ride off highway.

“Denying children and families opportunities to enjoy and have fun should not be politically correct in California,” Amy Granat, CORVA’s managing director, said in an interview.

Alameda County and other organizations including the Friends of Tesla Park, filed suit and, in January, a Sacramento judge ruled that the environmental impact report and general plan that supported the expanded off-road area violated the California Environmental Quality Act. She declared them invalid.

The ruling opened it up for Bauer-Kahan and Glazer to again file legislation.

During AB1512’s first committee hearing, Bauer-Kahan said scientific studies have “long documented the rare ecological value of the area,” and that saving it will contribute to Newsom’s goal to preserve 30 percent of California land by 2030.

“It’s essential to preserve this precious, natural resource and wildlife, who call the park home,” Bauer-Kahan said. “I also want to point out the amount that the state has spent in legal fees since this started being disputed over a decade ago, and it will only start over, given the recent judicial decision. So, we need to stop this and make a decision that is in the best interest of the community.”

Brandon Dawson, acting director of Sierra Club California, told the committee that preserving the land has “overwhelming support” from university professors and scientists, Native American leaders, ranchers and conservation groups, along with support from government agencies including Alameda County, the City of Livermore and EBRPD.

“Permanent preservation of Tesla Park is directly in line with the governor’s 30 by 30 executive order issued last fall,” Dawson said. “It protects biodiversity, provides climate change resiliency, protects wildlife corridors and increases access to nature.”

Eighteen representatives from a variety of environmental, preservation and Native American groups, called into the hearing to voice their support.

One organization, the San Diego Off Road Coalition, called in opposition to the bill.

In opposing the measure, Mead said the Park’s department’s Off-Highway Motorized Vehicle Trust Fund has already committed funding to preserve and protect the area “while responsibly developing multiple use access.” The Carnegie site already is an existing conversation area considered eligible to meet Newsom’s order, she said.

“The current park is amazing for experienced motorcycle riders,” Mead said. “There is no opportunity for the largest growing segment of OHV’s, the family oriented UTVs. Nor is there motorized access to wooded trails for mobility limited disabled, a protected class. The expansion will offer both and one-third of the area is dedicated to buffer zones. None of the meandering trails will be visible to neighboring properties.”

Mead said there was nowhere else in the Greater Bay Area for the park.

“This parcel was purchased and mitigated expressly to sustainably provide opportunity for what is not available at the existing park,” Mead said.

In her remarks, Mead said the legal battle will continue if the bill is approved.

“The end of the lawsuits will come when you allow State Parks to do the job Californians have entrusted them to do, and end this attempt at legislative NIMBYism,” she said.