An alliance of organizations is working together to convince the State Parks Department to change its plans for Tesla Park.
Currently, the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division (OHMVR) is moving forward with the aim of turning over 3.400 acres into a second vehicular recreation area. The land is adjacent to the existing 1600-acre Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (CSVHR).
The idea has produced a debate over the appropriate use of the area.
Celeste Garamendi leads the Livermore-area group, Friends of Tesla Park, that has the goal to keep off-road vehicles out of the unspoiled, state-owned Tesla site. The supporters want to permanently protect the acreage by establishing it as a non-motorized low impact historic and natural resource park and preserve.
On the other side of the issue are off-roaders who ride their dirt bikes and ATVs at Carnegie and would like to see more places where they can use their vehicles.
Both sides have been awaiting the release of a concept plan. Randy Caldera, acting Superintendent of CSVHR, said that four concepts on how the Tesla area might be used are under review in Sacramento. Caldera is hopeful that the review will be concluded and the proposals released before the end of April.
The state is in the process of a general plan update and environmental review of the proposal to create a vehicular recreation area on the Tesla site. The Draft EIR is expected to be issued in Summer 2013.
Since 2000, the OHMVR Division has tried twice to gain environmental approval to expand off-highway motor recreation into Tesla Park. It has abandoned both efforts.
Friends of Tesla Park point out that the most recent 2009 California State Park Department “Survey on Public Opinions and Attitudes on Outdoor Recreation in California” finds that OHV (off-highway vehicles) use is among the least important type of outdoor recreation to California residents. Walking, day hiking, viewing natural scenery and wildlife, and outdoor photography and many other types of non-OHV activities were all more important to survey respondents than OHV use (with OHV use including use of motorcycles, ATVs, dune buggies, and 4WD vehicles).
Carnegie opened in 1998 under state supervisiion. Visitors topped at 132,000 in 2006, but declined to about 80,000 users in 2011. For comparison, Mt. Diablo State Park, which encompasses 20,000 acres, reported 250,000 visitors that year.
Caldera, acting Superintendent of CSVRA, said that while the trend has been down the previous three years, this year, the use of the park is starting to pickup. He points out that there was a steady climb until 2002. He noted that in looking at DMV print-outs, “We can see that while people may not be using their vehicles, they are not getting rid of them. That pretty much tells us the economy has had an impact.
One area of off-road vehicle use that is increasing in demand, according to Caldera, are 4-wheel all terrain vehicles. “Carnegie doesn’t allow them in the hills or on extreme terrain. They can only be driven in the flat areas. The new property would be an ideal place for these vehicles,” he stated.
Tesla is a steep, rugged grassland in the southeast hills east of Livermore.
For many years, Carnegie’s badly rutted hillsides have been easily visible from Corral Hollow Road a dozen miles east of Livermore.
For many in Friends of Tesla Park, the visible Carnegie devastation generates a visceral reaction. They point out that it is a rich source of Old California history with economic ties to Livermore from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It has been a gathering point for Native Americans, used as a pass by Spanish explorers, a cattle ranch and was the site of a mining town. The area is currently fenced off as the state completes its environmental work. Inside the fence can be found mountain lions, snakes, hawks, tule elk, forests of native oaks and seasonal creeks. It is home to such endangered species as the red-legged frog and Alameda whipsnake.
Friends of Tesla Park have reached out to gain support for their effort to preserve the site. They are asking people to write to decision makers to urge a new direction for the future of the area.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan offered the following statement, “I share the concerns of many of my constituents about the potential harm to the Alameda/Tesla park land if it were to be opened to OHV use. Both East Bay Regional Parks District and Save Mount Diablo have expressed interest in preserving this land.
“Tesla Park must be protected given the numerous endangered and protected species, habitats and culturally significant features. The property also holds a rich history as the seasonal hunting and gathering grounds for Native American peoples as well as being the site of one of the first commercial coal mines in California. We cannot allow the Alameda/Tesla properties to be degraded like Carnegie.
“There cannot be any shortcuts to the EIR process. A complete and comprehensive project-level EIR, with opportunities for extensive public input, must be completed prior to any approval to open the Alameda/Tesla Park land to OHV use. If the process is to be supportable, the EIR also must consider alternative uses.”
She added, “In separate meetings with representatives from Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird’s office and State Parks Director, Major General Jackson, I emphasized that it is essential to an open and fair process that the final EIR must be complete and must be certified by an independent body, rather than by the OHMVR Commission. Both have assured me of this and our office will continue to follow the project throughout the EIR process.”
State Senator Mark DeSaulnier stated, “I remain supportive of efforts to preserve Tesla Park. As we continue in this process, I look forward to seeing the results of the state’s environmental impact report. I am hopeful that we can protect the ecology and natural beauty of Tesla.”
Bob Coomber, who climbs mountains and travels along trails in a wheelchair, said that he is fundamentally opposed to allowing motorized vehicles in a area that has a lot of value for a lot of purposes. He does not want the area to look like Carnegie Park, with deep gouges in the land. Allowing motorized vehicles will create more devastation and more air pollution, he stated, adding, “As a former motorcycle racer, I appreciate their view of recreation. However, the site is more valuable to more people keeping it as it is.”
Coomber said there is an opportunity to build trails in the Tesla area that could eventually link the area to Mt. Diablo. “If Tesla were a park, I’d be out there in a second. I am a huge fan of keeping land as natural as possible, because we are losing it so quickly.”
Environmentally focused organizations have many of the same concerns. Supporting the effort to preserve the Tesla area are the following: Alameda Creek Alliance; California Oaks (formerly California Oak Foundation); California Sports Fishing Association – CSFA; Center for Biological Diversity; Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge – CCCR; East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society – EBCNPS; Friends of the Arroyos; Friends of Livermore; Friends of Springtown Preserve; Friends of the Vineyards; Greenbelt Alliance; Livermore Heritage Guild; Livermore Hill Hikers; Ohlone Audubon Society; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – PEER; Regional Parks Association; Save Mount Diablo; Sfbaywildlife.info; Sierra Club; Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund – SPRAWLDEF; and Tri-Valley Trail Blazers, equestrian group.
Asked about oversight and damage, Caldera said that OHV has not seen the same cuts in funding as the rest of the parks department. “Our opponents attack us over the condition of the existing park. When the parks department purchased it, it was an existing OHV facility with hill climbs and damage. He stated that every piece of bare dirt in the park has been mapped via GPS. Trails marked as green are sustainable meeting all of the environmental requirements. Red areas are those with damage. Since 2009, we are able to show that many of those areas have been improved.
He said of impacts on wildlife and habitat, Carnegie contains a broad range of each. Our opponents statements about potential degradation in Tesla are not based on any scientific data. “We are under the same operational codes and regulatory requirements as other departments. On the Tesla site, we have been told which areas no motorized vehicles could be used. We know we won’t be able to develop any trail systems in those areas.
“I understand the recreational use of off-road vehicles. Users are not the stereotypical rowdy, beer drinking crowd; they are mainly families. One of the biggest complaints we hear is the need for more kid tracks. Yes, there is danger involved. Most of the injuries are to those in the younger group who push buttons to the extreme.”
According to the Friends of Tesla, one of the major failures of the OHMVR Division, as explained by former Deputy Director Daphne Green in her interview with the Attorney General as part of the 2012 State Parks Department secret fund investigation, was the Division’s acquisition or planned acquisition of property which was not suitable for OHV use. Tesla Park was not appropriate for OHV when it was purchased in 1996 and 1998. “Had the OHMVR Division completed necessary due diligence before the purchase as required by law, the sensitive natural and historic/cultural resources in Tesla Park would have been identified and Tesla Park would never have been purchased for expansion of Carnegie SVRA.”
Caldera said that EBRPD has been in discussion with OHV management regarding the placement of the Tesla area in its draft master plan. “We would love it if they would take it out of the plan.”
The District will provide a diverse system of non-motorized trails to accommodate a variety of recreational users including hikers, joggers, people with dogs, bicyclists and equestrians.”
Ayn Wieskamp, who represents the area on the EBRPD board, said that there have been no discussions about removing the area. It is a place-holder. There is no money to buy the land. “The area is of significant importance to the district. The dust and noise made by the motorized vehicles affects both plants and animals. I don’t think Tesla deserves to be degraded.”
In its draft master plan, EBPRD provides information about the Tesla Park issue. “In scoping the issues for this Master Plan, the District conducted two interest surveys of recreational interests and preferences: a scientifically valid telephone survey of and an open, web-based user survey, which generated 6,294 responses. Of the total responses to both surveys, only one respondent indicated an interest in OHV use. A CA State Parks survey (2007) indicated that only 3.5% of respondents in the San Francisco Bay Area had participated in OHV recreation in the preceding year. EBRPD’s surveys also indicated an overwhelming preference for the preservation of natural open space and maintenance of existing facilities as spending priorities, and, generally, for more passive, nature-oriented recreational activities, such as trail hiking and riding.”
Wieskamp added, “I respect other people’s recreation. I have no objection to finding a place somewhere for off-road use that would not offend nature or neighbors.”
Livermore Mayor John Marchand said he too hoped that the state would find a suitable site that does not have historical or ecological significance that could be used for off road vehicles.
This article appeared in The Independent.