REGIONAL — State lawmakers reached a deal Monday to protect the 3,100-acre Tesla Park site near Livermore from use as an off-road vehicle recreation area, bringing an apparent end to years of controversy over preserving the land, Tri-Valley State Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s office said.
The deal between legislators, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Parks and Recreation inserts the Tesla Park preservation issue into AB/SB 155 — the Natural Resources budget trailer bill. The bill, to be voted on in the State Assembly and Senate sometime before the legislative session ends Friday, replaces AB 1512, Bauer-Kahan’s Tesla Park protection bill that had been set for a Senate vote this week.
According to the new bill, $29.8 million will be placed from the state’s General Fund into the Off-Highway Motorized Vehicle Trust Fund to help off-roading enthusiasts and organizations find another location for a motorized-vehicle park. Bauer-Kahan’s bill had set aside $9 million.
Under the bill, another $1 million will be spent to re-designate Tesla Park, which will be removed from the existing Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area and become an independent state park. Off-highway vehicles will continue to be allowed in the Carnegie area, but they will be banned from expanding into the Tesla Park site, Bauer-Kahan’s office said.
“This rich biological and cultural area’s fate has been tied up for years in the courts, proving to be a drain on our state resources and needlessly putting this unique land in jeopardy,” Bauer-Kahan said in a statement
Amy Granat, managing director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, said in an interview that while off-road enthusiasts were attached to the Tesla Park site for their park, they were thankful the state recognized their sport and offered other locations.
According to the language in the bill, a new location was not officially designated, but it could include land in the state-owned 87,000-acre Henry W. Coe State Park in Morgan Hill.
“The state is recognizing the need to provide safe, well-managed parks for families and children within proximity of the Bay Area and the Central Valley to enjoy these recreational vehicles,” Granat said.
For years, Democrats Bauer-Kahan and Tri-Valley Sen. Steve Glazer, the community group Friends of Tesla Park, Sierra Club California and other organizations fought the state Parks and Recreation plan to expand off-road vehicle use into the Tesla Park site.
In 2020, Newsom vetoed a Bauer-Kahan preservation bill, because it would have required the state to sell the park. Newsom wanted it to remain under the state’s jurisdiction.
Bauer-Kahan’s office said the new agreement preserving Tesla Park helps Newsom achieve his October 2020 Executive Order to protect biodiversity and to conserve 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030.
Bauer-Kahan’s office called the deal a “win-win” for environmentalists and off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
“We are incredibly thankful that the governor has recognized Tesla Park’s vital importance, including it now in the ongoing protection of critical natural resources in California.,” Bauer-Kahan said.
The agreement also puts an end to years of litigation from the OHV industry and environmentalists, each wanting to use the land.
Glazer echoed Bauer-Kahan’s “win-win” sentiment.
“Our community and region get to preserve this natural and cultural treasure while the off-road enthusiasts will keep their current park and receive funding to develop another park on land that’s more suitable to that kind of recreation,” he said.
Environmental groups had fought the idea of expanding off-roading into Tesla Park for years, alleging in a 2016 lawsuit motorized vehicles would threaten endangered species, birds and plants, and scar lands once inhabited by Native Americans.
The expansion, however, appeared on its way to reality with Newsom’s veto of Bauer-Kahan’s bill. But in January, a Sacramento County judge sided with Alameda County and other organizations including the Friends of Tesla Park, ruling that an environmental impact report and general plan that supported creation of an expanded off-road area violated the California Environmental Quality Act. The judge declared the plans invalid, giving Bauer-Kahan and Glazer another chance to propose legislation to stop the expansion.
Environmental groups were pleased with the outcome.
“Tesla Park, a jewel in the crown of mountains ringing the Tri-Valley, has been saved,” said Livermore resident Nancy Rodrigue, a Friends of Tesla Park committee member, in a statement. “It’s an amazing feat that Tesla Park will now forever be protected with no motorized recreation. The future holds Tesla as a protected native landscape for hikers, history buffs, nature lovers, research and education.”
Sierra Club California director Brandon Dawson said his organization applauded the agreement.
“Sierra Club California and our local allies have advocated for decades to protect Tesla Park,” Dawson stated. “This proposal represents a major victory for environmentalists across the state.”
Ayn Weiskamp, a board member for the East Bay Regional Park District, which operates the park, called it a “wonderful way to celebrate Labor Day weekend knowing our beautiful Tesla property is preserved in perpetuity.”
Granat said the state has seen a 49% increase in the last few years of registrations for off-road vehicles, including electric vehicles. When a new park could be developed wasn’t immediately known, but Henry Coe State Park, she said, was underutilized.
Coe park, she said, is in a good location for Bay Area and Central Valley residents.
“We know the need exists now and the state has recognized this is a high priority,” Granat said. “We will make sure to make every effort to expedite the process.”