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By: Robert Janis

California ORV Association

California Off-Road Vehicle Association Uses Political Skills, Websites to Push For Goals

CORVA Southern Jamboree
CORVA Southern Jamboree

You might say that a casual visit to a beach was the spark needed to create the California Off-Road Vehicle Association (CORVA). The beach was Pismo Beach, and the visitors were a handful of off-roaders. The year was 1968. “In 1968 a handful of off-roaders saw closure on the horizon,” began Erin Dyer, state secretary of CORVA and editor/publisher of the association’s newsletter, “Off-Roaders in Action.” “At Pismo Beach they decided to protect land access by forming a statewide organization named the California Off-Road Vehicle Association. Back then the location where they were meeting was called Pismo Beach State Recreation Area. There were no State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRA) at the time. Now, Pismo Beach is called Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.”

Constructing the nuts and bolts of the association began in 1969 in the town of Downey, California, west of Los Angeles. That first informal meeting became known as the first CORVA Convention. Interim officers were selected, and bylaws were written. However, the actual election of officers took place in the spring of 1970 at Pismo Beach City Hall. Also, the association filed incorporation papers in 1970.

From the beginning the association has been led by a “who’s who” of off-road. The first unofficial president was Gary Funk, and officers included Bob Ham and Jan Domaigne. The first elected president was Gayle “Tiny” Stone with Bob Ham serving as vice president. Ham has since been inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. The current president of CORVA is Ed Waldheim who is also an inductee of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame as well as the American Motorcyclist Association Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He has served in the post for the last 15 years but will be passing the torch this year.

The Mission and Politics

From its inception CORVA has been proactive on land access issues in the State Legislature of California as well as the U.S. Congress, agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, and with cities’ and counties’ agencies as well as the California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Program (OHMVR). The main purpose is to defend against any land closures that remove access to trails and riding areas, explained Dyer. The group has been successful in influencing California’s politicians evidenced by the fact that then California Governor Pete Wilson attended and spoke at the association’s 25th Annual Convention. In that speech Wilson referred to CORVA as an organization “dedicated to protecting our lands for the people, not from the people.” “He phrased our mission so perfectly, we’ve adopted it verbatim,” said Dyer.

In fact, CORVA, under the direction of Bob Ham, helped write the original legislation in 1970 that created the California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division and also, years later in 1982, helped write the legislation for the OHMVR commission to oversee the funds raised as a result of the earlier legislation. The original legislation allowed funds to be raised through registration and gas taxes apportioned to off-road vehicles. “It is known as the ‘Green Sticker’ program after the green registration stickers used as license plates on OHVs,” said Dyer.

 

Dyer pointed out that CORVA is a volunteer organization. “We don’t own or rent any facilities; we have no paid executive staff; we hire contractors and consultants as needed,” she said. “This allows us to use the majority of our funds for land use activities and newsletter publication to educate and inform the membership.”

In order to lobby the state in the most efficient manner CORVA organized the Off-Road Vehicle Legislative Coalition (ORVLC) which included various OHV organizations and was directed by Bob Ham. This wing of CORVA has since been reconfigured into the California League of Off-Road Voters (CLORV). The group includes politically active members of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), District 36 of AMA, District 37 Competition and Dual Sport Divisions of the AMA, the American Sand Association (ASA), the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC), the California-Nevada Snowmobile Association (CNSA), the California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA), The Friends of Oceano Dunes (FOD), the Off Road Business Association (ORBA), and the San Diego Off Road Coalition (SDORC), which collectively has more than 100,000 members. CLORV has its own website at: www.clorv.org.

Dyer explained that CORVA lobbies at the State Capitol, OHV Lobby Day, and the California Republican and Democratic Party Conventions. However, the members of CORVA do the majority of the lobbying for the association. “They travel to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., mostly paid for out of their own pockets. We hire the services of one lobbyist in Sacramento and one in Washington, D.C.” In order to keep costs manageable, CORVA’s lobbying activity is done in a collective work manner with other organizations in partnership. “This allows us to use our lobbying dollars when the situation most needs attention,” noted Dyer.

The group influences local city councils and other decision-making agencies by simply “getting to know them,” said Dyer. “We visit their offices for personal meetings. We attend their public hearings, workshops, and give testimony in hearings. We get them to see we are educated, family-oriented people with careers that just want to go camping with our families. We are not the dumb, drunken teenagers the media portrays us to be. We attend economic summits and get on the agenda to speak about the economic influence of off-roading. Then, when we go to future meetings, the officials recognize us as movers and shakers, and they approach us. That recognition by an elected official or agency representative in a large community hall can help sway others in attendance that we are an authority figure.”

In addition, CORVA members attend local meetings of the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service. They also provide testimony for the BLM and USFS and do letter writing campaigns. “One club, the Santa Barbara Motorcycle Club, even wrote their own alternative to a Land Management Plan written by the U.S. Forest Service,” said Dyer.

Dyer also noted that the association’s northern regional team of Bruce Witcher and Kyra and Amy Granat are writing comments on the USFS Route Designation Planning Process. “The USFS is ‘designating’ trails for closure in 19 forests in California. CORVA is in the forefront of involvement to stop this,” she said.

CORVA president Ed Waldheim hosts regularly scheduled meetings with the USFS and BLM.
CORVA president Ed Waldheim hosts regularly scheduled meetings with the USFS and BLM.

Dyer added that the association is proactive and does not wait for things to occur before it takes action. For example, CORVA president Ed Waldheim hosts regularly scheduled meetings with the USFS and BLM. “He doesn’t wait for them to call him; he sets up the meeting and runs it. He keeps a list of Action Items and who is responsible to follow through. He also keeps a ‘Waldheim Budget’ of where the money is being spent and he keeps a phone log of whom he talks to and what meetings took place. He then distributes all this information to the CORVA officers. We also send members to Washington, D.C. to meet with the heads of the BLM and USFS so they can see what’s going on on the ground.”

Dyer also pointed out that members of CORVA wear CORVA orange colors whenever they go somewhere. “This even means wearing an orange jacket over our business suit at the State Capitol or orange lanyards with our nametags,” she said. “The orange started as a protest color years ago, because it stands out in a crowd. When there is a public hearing for a wilderness bill, the panel of Congressional members can look out over the audience and see a sea of orange and know how many CORVA members are in attendance that are protesting this action. We also encourage other organizations to wear orange on OHV lobby day. You would be amazed at how many conversations are started in the elevator at the State Capitol, and we can pleasantly respond to Staffers or actual legislators. They get to put a face to an off-roader.”

Dyer likes to tell a story about when she was at the Burbank Airport heading to a plane to take her to the OHV Lobby Day, and an assemblyman named Dario Frommer was on the plane. “Not knowing him from the back, my husband and I asked to sit next to him; and he saw our orange jackets and said, ‘CORVA! Do you know Ed Waldheim?’ We said, ‘Boy, do we!’ Then other legislators and staffers on the plane heading for Sacramento all turned around to see who we were.”

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