Below is a copy of the Writ of Mandate concerning Ocotillo Wells SVRA
Michael R. Lozeau (Bar No. 142893)
Richard Drury (Bar No. 163559)
Douglas J. Chermak (Bar No. 233382)
LOZEAU DRURY LLP
410 12th Street, Suite 250
Oakland, California 94607
Tel: (510) 836-4200
Fax: (510) 836-4205
Attorneys for Petitioners PUBLIC EMPLOYEES FOR
ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY and
DESERT PROTECTIVE COUNCIL FOUNDATION
SUPERIOR COURT FOR THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES FOR
ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY, a
non-profit corporation; DESERT
PROTECTIVE COUNCIL FOUNDATION, a
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF PARKS
AND RECREATION, an agency of the State
of California; DIVISION OF OFFHIGHWAY
RECREATION, a division of the California
Department of Parks and Recreation;
CHRISTOPHER C. CONLIN, in his official
VERIFIED PETITION FOR WRIT OF
[Code Civ. Proc. §§ 1085, 1087]
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (“PEER”) and the Desert Protective
Council (“DPC”) hereby petition this Court for a Writ of Mandate pursuant to California Code of Civil
Procedure (“CCP”) Sections 1085 and 1087 ordering the California Department of Parks and
Recreation, the Division of Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (“OHMVR”) and responsible
officials in their official capacities (collectively Respondents”), to immediately cease and desist
Respondents’ ”open” off-road vehicle driving policy currently being implemented at the Ocotillo
Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (“Ocotillo SVRA”) and to take all necessary actions to restrict
all vehicle use at the Ocotillo SVRA to the trails specifically identified on the Ocotillo SVRA’s trail
map (attached and incorporated by reference as Exhibit A), in order to bring the SVRA into
compliance with the Off-Highway Motor Vehicles Recreation Act of 2003 (“OHMVRA”), Public
Resources Code (“PRC”) § 5090.35 et seq.
1. The OHMVRA imposes on Respondents a non-discretionary duty to “promptly repair
and continuously maintain areas and trails, anticipate and prevent accelerated and unnatural erosion,
and restore lands damaged by erosion to the extent possible.” PRC § 5090.35(a). “Restoration” is
defined as the closure of a unit or portion of a unit and the restoration of land to the contours, plant
communities, and plant covers comparable to those on surrounding lands or those that existed prior to
off-highway motor vehicle use. Id. at § 5090.11.
2. Respondents have failed and continue to fail to “promptly repair and continuously
maintain” hundreds of miles of trail routes within the Ocotillo SVRA, as they are required to do by the
OHMVRA. Respondents’ own records reveal that maintenance work has been performed
inconsistently on named trails. Petitioners are informed and believe that several named trails have
never been maintained. Further, Respondents’ own records indicate that there were many months
throughout the year, going back to at least 2010, in which no trail maintenance work was done at all.
3. Respondents’ own records further reveal that no maintenance work of any kind has
been performed on any of the hundreds of miles of user-made trails. Yet, under the OHMVRA, the
Department is required to maintain all trails, including user-created trails which have not been
officially designated and named as trails by the Division. The plain language of the OHMVRA clearly
provides that the duty to “promptly repair and continuously maintain” applies to both “areas and
trails.” PRC § 5090.35(b) (emphasis added). Moreover, under the 1991 Soil Guidelines, “trail” is
defined as being “[a]ny route that is not designated as a road.” OHMVR recognizes that user-created
trails must be maintained pursuant to the statute. The environmental audit done in 1997 states that
“[t]he law governing the application of soil standards and erosion control is to be applied to ‘each area
of the system’ where ‘system’ is defined as ‘the areas and trails within the state park system.’ As such,
all trails, regardless of their origin (i.e. designated or volunteer), are to be treated equally in the
application of the soil standard.” Audit Report for Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Division, at 6 (1997).
Thus, user-made trails are trails within the meaning of the OHMVRA, and Respondents therefore have
a non-discretionary statutory obligation to “promptly repair and continuously maintain” user-made
trails. As Respondents’ own records show, Respondents have failed and continue to fail to fulfill this
mandatory obligation, since these records show that no maintenance work of any kind has been
performed on user-made trails.
4. Respondents’ actions have worsened trail conditions instead of maintaining “all areas
and trails” and improving them. This is because most of the work deemed maintenance by
Respondents consists of grading, while, as the 2008 Soil Conservation Standard and Guidelines
expressly note, “grading [is] not appropriate for … trail maintenance” because it accelerates soil
erosion (at p. 20) and the very purpose of the trail maintenance requirement is to mitigate soil erosion.
PRC § 5090.35(b).
5. According to the 2011 Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Report (“2011 Commission
Report”), the Commission responsible for overseeing the OHMVRA program found that “natural
resources appear to be degrading” at Ocotillo Wells SVRA “sampled habitats have sustained
substantial loss in vegetation, soil and general habitat integrity,” and that “OHV recreation may be
causing a lack of plant recruitment and loss of annual seedbank,” which is “particularly apparent in
areas of intense motorized use.” California State Parks, Off-Highway Vehicle Commission, 2011
Program Report, at 84 (2011).
6. Respondents have also violated their statutory duty to protect archeological sites which
are present within the Park. The OHMVRA requires the division to monitor and protect archeological
resources. PRC § 5090.35(f). There are no less than 1,272 archeological sites within the Park.
Respondents have provided protection to only a handful of those sites. More than a thousand
archeological sites are completely unprotected, and are constantly vulnerable to damage because
Respondents have imposed no restrictions on off-road vehicles riding on or over them.
7. Respondents have been, and will continue to be, in violation of their statutory duties
under the OHMVRA unless a writ is issued by this Court ordering Respondents to put an end to their
open-riding policy and prohibit drivers of off-road vehicles from driving on user-created trails, or
worse, on previously undisturbed desert habitat.
Beneficial Interest of Petitioners; Capacity of Respondents
8. Petitioner PUBLIC EMPLOYEES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY is a
national, non-profit corporation based in Washington, D.C. with chapters throughout the United States,
including California. California PEER has a field office in Georgetown, California. PEER represents
current and former federal and state employees of land management, wildlife protection, and pollution
control agencies who are frustrated by the failure of governmental agencies to enforce or faithfully
implement the environmental laws entrusted to them by Congress or States. PEER has thousands of
members living across the country, including members who live, recreate and work in the immediate
vicinity of the Ocotillo Wells SVRA. Members of PEER reside in lands in the Ocotillo Wells area.
They use and enjoy desert lands in and around the Ocotillo Wells SVRA for observation, research,
aesthetic enjoyment, and other recreational, scientific, and educational activities. PEER members have
visited Ocotillo Wells SVRA and observed large areas of damaged and eroded desert soils at the site
and indications that OHV riders using the Park are not limited to designated trails but instead are
allowed to travel any terrain their vehicles can maneuver within the SVRA.
9. PEER members observe air-borne dust within the Ocotillo Wells SVRA from areas
where riding off designated trails is occurring. PEER members’ use and enjoyment of Anza-Borrego
Desert State Park has been adversely affected by the presence of OHV drivers driving into the Park
from open areas within Ocotillo Well SVRA. PEER members’ observation and experience of these
incidents diminishes their recreational use and enjoyment of the Ocotillo Wells SVRA, Anza-Borrego
Desert State Park, and other nearby lands.
10. The interests of PEER’s members have been, are being, and will continue to be
adversely affected by Respondents’ failure to comply with the OHMVRA. The relief sought herein
will redress the harms to PEER caused by Respondents’ failure to comply with the OHMVRA.
11. Petitioner DESERT PROTECTIVE COUNCIL FOUNDATION is a non-profit public
benefit corporation founded in 1954. Its mission is to safeguard and preserve for this and succeeding
generations the scenic, historical, spiritual, natural, cultural and recreational values of the southwest
deserts and to educate children and adults to a better understanding of the deserts. The DPC works
through education, land stewardship and advocacy. The DPC has participated in land use planning
efforts across the American southwest deserts for decades, including supporting the initial creation of
the Ocotillo Wells SVRA in order to assure that OHV recreation in this area would be controlled and
not result in damage to the desert environment.
12. Members of DPC reside in lands in the Ocotillo Wells area. The DPC’s board, staff and
members use the lands and waters within and in the vicinity of the Ocotillo Wells SVRA, including
trails adjacent to open areas that Respondents have not maintained within the SVRA, for recreation,
photography, scientific research, aesthetic pursuits, and spiritual renewal. DPC members regularly
visit the Ocotillo Wells SVRA. During those visits, DPC members have observed large areas of
damaged and eroded desert soils at the site and indications that OHV riders using the Park are not
limited to designated trails but instead are allowed to travel any terrain their vehicles can maneuver
within the SVRA. DPC members have observed large dust clouds rising from these areas of erosion,
obscuring visibility within the Park and on adjacent highways. In northern sections of the Park, DPC
members have documented user-created vehicular tracks criss-crossing ancient Native American foot
trails and over 10,000 year-old desert pavement. DPC members have observed OHV riders creating
new trails on the sides of fragile soft sandstone formations. DPC members have observed OHV
drivers travel on user-created tracks into adjacent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and crushing plants
within the State Park. DPC members’ observation and experience of these incidents diminishes their
recreational use and enjoyment of the Ocotillo Wells SVRA, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and
other nearby lands. The interests of DPC’s members have been, are being, and will continue to be
adversely affected by Respondents’ failure to comply with the OHMVRA. The relief sought herein
will redress the harms to DPC caused by Respondents’ failure to comply with the OHMVRA.
13. Respondent CALIFORNIA PARKS AND RECREATION is now, and at all times
mentioned in this petition, has been, a state agency under the laws of the State of California.
14. Respondent DIVISION OF OFF-HIGHWAY MOTOR VEHICLE RECREATION, a
division of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, was created by the OHMVRA. PRC §
5090.30. The Division’s duties and responsibilities include monitoring the conditions of soils and
wildlife habitat within the Ocotillo SVRA and conserving and restoring lands in the Ocotillo SVRA
required by the OHMVRA.
15. Respondent C