After nearly 18 months of hard-fought litigation, EcoLogic Partners, Inc. (“EcoLogic”) has prevailed in its California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit against the California Department of Parks and Recreation (“State Parks”) over the closure of recreational vehicle routes in Truckhaven (also known as the “Freeman Property”). On October 16, 2012, Judge Jeffrey Jones of the Imperial County Superior Court issued his final Judgment in the action, finding that State Parks violated CEQA when it approved a “boundary signage and fencing” project without first analyzing whether and to what extent the project would have adverse impacts on natural and recreational resources. As a result of the Court’s ruling, State Parks’ decision to approve the boundary signage and fencing project has been set aside.
State Parks first approved the project on February 8, 2011, claiming that it was “categorically exempt” from CEQA because it only involved the installation of signs and fences. EcoLogic brought suit alleging that the project had the obvious, if not intended, effect of closing pre-existing recreational vehicle routes – a discretionary action for which no CEQA exemption exists. Both parties submitted extensive briefing to the Court, which held two hearings on the merits of the case. Ultimately, the Court ruled in EcoLogic’s favor:
“As is acknowledged by respondent [State Parks], a major component of the project is the closure, or opening, of roads to vehicular travel . . . . It is beyond argument that the determination of where roads are is a determination likely to have a significant effect on the environment.
“Respondent’s implicit determination that designation of traversable roads and trails is categorically exempt from CEQA review is unsupported by any evidence in the record.
“For the foregoing reasons, the petition is GRANTED.”
Later this week, the Court is expected to execute the Writ of Mandate setting aside State Parks’ decision to approve the boundary signage and fencing project. The practical effect of the Writ is to reopen those trails which were either closed or slated for closure as part of State Parks’ decision from February 2011. As the prevailing party in the litigation, EcoLogic will now seek an order from the Court directing State Parks to pay EcoLogic’s attorneys fees and costs. For additional information, please contact attorney David Hubbard at (760) 431-9501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ecologic partners is; Off Road Business Association (ORBA), American Sand Association (ASA), and American Motorcyclists Association (AMA) District 37 Off Road. (Additional funding for the lawsuit was provided by; San Diego Off Road Coalition, Tierra Del Sol 4 Wheel Drive Club, and the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs.) The lawsuit is the first time in California an OHV group has successfully challenged a state trail or route closure.