By Karen Brainard
California Department of Parks and Recreation has until mid-July to respond to a lawsuit intended to halt off-road open riding at Ocotillo Wells, according to an attorney working with the off-road community.
Although the lawsuit was filed on May 21, it was not served to the state parks department until June 14, so it has 30 days from then to respond, said Attorney David Hubbard. That gives state parks until July 14, he added.
“I would suspect we wouldn’t see the response or answer until the date gets close,” said Hubbard.
The state parks department, one of the defendants in the suit along with Division of Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation, confirmed that the lawsuit has been forwarded to the state attorney general’s office, which Hubbard said is the legal arm of state parks.
“Everything seems to be following the conventional scheme here,” Hubbard said.
Should state parks fight the lawsuit, Hubbard, a partner with Gatzke Dillon & Ballance LLP in Carlsbad, said he is ready to represent two off-road groups: EcoLogic Partners and Tierra Del Sol 4-Wheel Drive Club. The attorney said he will be prepared to file a Motion to Intervene so the end users can be involved and participate on behalf of state parks to defend how Ocotillo Wells is used and managed.
The California parks department said it could not comment on the lawsuit but noted that this area of desert has been in off-highway vehicle use for more than 60 years, about 30 years longer than the state has owned it.
“First, the California Public Resources Code designates it as an off-highway motor vehicle park and state parks has an obligation under law to operate it as such,” the agency said in a statement. “However, in recent years, state parks, through work with staff and private consultants, has identified the need for a revised general plan, as well as an updated habitat management system, to further improve the monitoring and protection of natural and cultural resources. That process is under way and it will address all critical issues.
“In the meantime, the management at the park is not waiting for these documents and has implemented improved and successful resource management programs that include wildlife monitoring, signs to regulate use, enclosures to keep out vehicles, surveys of natural and cultural resources and the like.
“No one should think that state parks is doing nothing. It is on a clear course to ensure protection of critical resources, while still offering quality recreation in a place that is designated for such use under law.”