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I'm not funny 

Well, it happened. I was all jackassy again last week, with a lame bit about how nobody died at the Oceano Dunes over the Fourth of July weekend, defying expectations. Except somebody did. A little boy was buried in the sand, buried until he stopped breathing and died. It got reported on the news as if it happened at Pismo Beach, but it actually happened at the Dunes.

I gather that when State Parks reported it, they noted it was at “Pismo State Beach,” which reporters logically took to mean “Pismo Beach.” But according to the SLO County Sheriff, it occurred unambiguously at Oceano State Beach Vehicle Recreation Area.

That’s at least the second death involving a young child at the Dunes this year.

So I look like an ass, again, for trying to make fun out of the potential for tragedy, but that’s no big deal because I am an ass. The larger question here is how long we’re going to put up with these regular, predictable deaths of innocents out on the Dunes. They seem to accompany every major holiday weekend.

At some point, the state of California has to be looked at as complicit in the deaths. When someone like me can tell you that people are going to die, and they do, it’s no longer a game of chance, because I’m a proven, demonstrated idiot.

Here’s the case for holding the state accountable.

First, it’s a dumb idea to begin with. We shouldn’t bunch everybody who wants to drive off-road into one tiny area and let them go at it. Off-roaders agree with this; they say there should be more land available for them to ride in. I don’t know if I agree with that or not, but whatever the deal, there shouldn’t be so damn many in one place.

Second, there aren’t enough rangers out there to properly police the place. There’s only about a dozen to handle a population that grows to the size of a middlin’ city on big weekends. That’s just not enough cops.

Finally, it’s too cheap. The state charges so little to get into the Oceano Dunes State Recreation Area, it’s essentially free. It’s cheaper than camping in a legitimate campground, cheaper than the entry fee for other state parks where folks can’t drive all over the place. Hell, it’s cheaper than a smoothie at Jamba Juice.

Why does this matter? It matters for the same reason they started selling assigned seats at rock concerts after people were trampled in stampedes. When you’re dealing with masses, it’s up to you to control them. Higher prices would not only address numbers, it would emphasize the idea that the Dunes are valuable, and therefore ought to be respected. No real cost equals no real respect, and my column is free, so what does that tell you?

SMAAC, down

Speaking of known hazards, I’m told that county planners now consider it hazard duty to attend meetings of the deliciously acronymed advisory group, Santa Margarita Area Advisory Council (that’s SMAAC to you).

No planners showed up at a meeting the other day that was set to deal with the mutha of all the group’s issues, the question of whether to back construction of 111 mansions on the Santa Margarita Ranch. The planners offered some excuse about lawyers preventing their attendance. But word is that county staffers simply can’t stand the poisonous atmosphere.

The group, like other advisory groups, exists only to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. In particular, it’s supposed to advise Supervisor Jim Patterson.

Unlike other advisory groups, however, this one is set up in an inherently undemocratic way. Consider this: The would-be ranch developers get two votes on the panel, just by dint of being big landowners. And how many votes does the entire town of Santa Margarita get? Two. So that’s a tie.

In fact, all the little villages, hamlets, and omelets in the whole area get two representatives and, in most cases, they’re both wearing shiny belt buckles that read “Protect my property rights.” Whose side do you think they fall on?

Elsewhere, similar advisory groups have been changed so they give out votes based on population to avoid just this kind of ganging up. It’s like having the U.S. Congress be made up of just the Senate, without the House.

Folks, it’s rare to be weird, funky, and rural, but that’s Santa Margarita. People moved there because it’s this cool place, surrounded by all this open land, most of it the ranch itself. Now many are worried that will change.

Think I’m exaggerating the power the developers have on this advisory group? Just ask me where the last meeting was held, the one dealing with whether or not to develop the Santa Margarita Ranch. Go ahead, ask me.

Well, couldn’t you guess? It was at the Santa Margarita Ranch. They don’t call it SMAAC for nothing.

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