Editorial: A partial tourism comeback from the depths of 2008

San Benito County’s tourism industry was hammered four years ago from three setbacks aggravated by poor leadership at the local and federal levels.
At the local level, Hollister council members managed to allow the unnecessary dismantling of an international brand rooted in tradition – the biker rally – by letting the former police chief jack up security costs to ungodly, unsustainable figures and allowing the former sheriff’s anti-rally influence weigh heavily in the decision making.
At the federal level, the county was victimized by speculative science and misfortune, respectively, with the closures of Clear Creek Management Area and San Justo Reservoir.
The Bureau of Land Management closed Clear Creek after an Environmental Protection Agency study found what it deemed as potentially unsafe levels of asbestos in some parts of the 63,000-acre area for off-road recreational use. The Bureau of Reclamation prompted the San Justo shuttering after the first discovery in California of highly invasive zebra mussels, which can cause major damage to habitats and piping systems.
All three severe blows to local tourism occurred in the midst of the economic downturn. It was altogether poor timing, to say the least.
With the help of legislation from Congressman Sam Farr – who also recently introduced the bill to rename Pinnacles National Monument as a national park – the county could be on the verge of finally starting a tourism comeback of sorts. Although Farr deserves some responsibility for the holding period during painstakingly sluggish environmental reviews and debate over Clear Creek, he deserves credit for taking the lead in efforts to reopen its doors.
The bill largely addresses a change of designation to rename it as the Clear Creek National Recreation Area. New rules would stipulate that the BLM reopen the property to motorized use on 243 miles of existing routes – as outlined in the 2005 Clear Creek Management Area Travel Management Plan – which are already approved under a federal environmental process.
Since the EPA and BLM have been targeting 31,000 acres in the serpentine area of Clear Creek as their primary concern regarding asbestos levels, the new legislation would allow users access to certain areas that are less of a concern.
It follows a study from 2011 funded and promoted by the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division in California calling into question the EPA results and offering methods for riders to avoid asbestos exposure.
Reopening portions of Clear Creek and allowing riders to assume responsibility for their health is a wise path to follow – especially considering the irony that Clear Creek users are at a much higher risk of health dangers related to the riding itself and vehicle accidents that come with the territory.
While Farr has turned his attention to Clear Creek, we urge him to get more involved with the mussel cleanup at San Justo Reservoir and accelerate mitigation for what remains a hindrance on San Benito County’s economy and a potential environmental disaster for the state.

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