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Our Opinion: Davis: Help clean up the dunes

December 23, 2001

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors has declared a state of emergency exists in the county because of the growing problems in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. We applaud the board for taking that action, even if it doesn't amount to anything more than a ceremonial gesture.

What it could do, however, is get Gov. Gray Davis to take notice of the problem and move the governor to declare a state of emergency exists in the county. That could prove a benefit by sending more resources to increase law enforcement numbers in the dunes over holiday weekends.

There is a serious problem in the dunes. Sure, the vast majority of the people who spend time in the dunes do so in a lawful way. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of blockheads going out there to do nothing more than create havoc, and bringing weapons and drugs to do so.

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During the recent Thanksgiving holiday we saw the type of violence possible in the dunes with a shooting, knifings, a ranger run over by an angry detained motorist and other fights and criminal activity. There were fewer than 40 officers to deal with the impossible task of dealing with a crowd of 190,000.

During the upcoming New Year's weekend, there could be another large crowd in the dunes. This time, law enforcement agencies will be more prepared with a substantial increase in officers assigned to the area throughout the weekend.

Those agencies deserve praise for their planning and efforts to secure funding to increase the number of officers. Thanks to their work, there will be staffing and equipment to make patrolling the dunes more manageable.

Still, the problem is bigger than just covering one holiday weekend. There are upcoming weekends when even more off-road enthusiasts will gather in the dunes. Local law enforcement agencies are going to need help to make sure they can continue to provide the necessary resources to cover each holiday weekend.

That is where the governor comes in. If Davis declares a state of emergency exists, it would be a key step toward securing new sources of funding. This is a problem that doesn't just affect Imperial County. People from all over the state utilize the dunes on holiday weekends. Therefore, this is a statewide issue — one to which the governor should respond.

We look forward to seeing the governor take action. We urge him not to delay.

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