April 20, 2015

The California Department of State Contrivances . . .

By Anthony L. Francois Senior Attorney

. . . sounds like it could be a real thing, but it is not. Recently, in Friends of Oceano Dunes v. San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District, the California Court of Appeal held that a California state park is not a “contrivance” within the meaning of the California Clean Air Act. Perhaps some other aspect of the Golden State’s wacky government complex could properly be considered a contrivance, but not a state park.*

The case arises from one local air pollution district’s effort to shut down vehicle recreation at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area, which is a very popular coastal venue for dune buggy riding and related off-roadery. The air district is concerned that off-road vehicles make sand more likely to be blown on the ocean breezes inland, adding to particulate air pollution. But, local air districts may not regulate air pollution from vehicles; only the mighty California Air Resources Board can do that. Undaunted, the local district decided that it would regulate the state park itself, for its operation of the dune buggy area. The air district relied on a statute allowing it to regulate non-vehicular direct emissions from “any article, machine, equipment, or other contrivance,” theorizing that a state park is a “contrivance” because it has fences with gates, roads and paths, parking lots, restrooms, and posted signs, all of which are man-made improvements and fall within a dictionary definition of “contrivance.”

The court of appeal found this interpretation to be contrived, holding that the proper meaning of “contrivance” in the statute was limited to things similar to the specific items in the list: articles, machines, and equipment that are capable of producing air pollution, none of which can reasonably be understood to include a state park (or apparently, any other similar recreational property or facility).

One of California's many beautiful contrivances
One of California’s many beautiful state contrivances parks

 

*Fans (or not) of California government might consider the entire Department of State Parks to at least engage in “contrivances” under another meaning of that word. In 2013 the California State Auditor reported that the State Parks Department had maintained a multi-million dollar accumulated surplus unreported in its annual budget filings, and had left these funds unreported even as it moved to close 70 state parks for lack of budget funds.

What to read next