Officers hear fewer off-road complaints this holiday

From the Hi-Desert Star

By Mark Wheeler / Hi-Desert Star
Tuesday, February 20, 2007 10:53 PM PST

MORONGO BASIN – The Presidents’ Day weekend was, by law-enforcement accounts, reasonably uneventful on the off-road vehicle front this year. Historically, the occasion has ranked second only to Thanksgiving weekend for citizen complaints about ORV activity in the Basin, but a pre-planned increase in enforcement presence this year seems to have had results.

County code enforcement officer Mike Romage reported his office coordinated with the county sheriff and the Bureau of Land Management to put more officers in the field this year.

“We definitely saw a change in the Basin,” he said.

Although by his report the office took a lot of calls, he noted they weren’t exceptionally numerous, nor did his office hear from many of the residents who are historically driven to complain on the longer weekends. The code enforcement team of six made 337 enforcement contacts over the three-day period and wrote four citations, according to Romage.

He also reported that five new cases of illegal staging were opened in which people had assembled in large numbers without a permit.
In addition, his officers made 68 contacts for education purposes and handed out more than 140 educational fliers.

Romage believes the county’s ORV ordinance, adopted by county supervisors in April 2006, is having a positive affect, although he also remarked on the importance of enforcement in the field.

This weekend’s attention was planned in advance and, in fact, was subject of a Community ORV Watch meeting last week.

At that meeting, all three enforcement agencies told the audience they would be out in force, and were planning to target historic hot spots. Besides the six county officers, the sheriff’s office dedicated four officers to ORV duty over the weekend, and the local BLM officer patrolled overtime all three days. Sheriff’s Sgt. Rick Collins reported his team made 30 enforcement contacts over the weekend, eight of them resulting in citations and one in recovering a stolen vehicle.

His group also made education contacts and handed out fliers.

One new tool the department used this year was an electronic signboard on Old Woman Springs Road, just past the Circle K store. This sign gave directions to the open ORV area in Johnson Valley, and Collins suggested it may have been helpful in limiting the amount of illegal riding activity in Landers. Visitors, he said, sometimes mistakenly think open lands in the Landers area are part of the Johnson Valley ORV preserve. The sign, he thought, helped prevent this error.

Off-road trespass, vandalism getting worse

Published in the Hi-Desert Star:

By Phil Klasky / Wonder Valley
Friday, February 9, 2007 11:08 PM PST

Hi-Desert residents didn’t have much of a chance to celebrate the new county ordinance that helps curb off-road-vehicle trespass and destruction of our communities before a push back by riders that has made things worse. Just ask your local sheriff and homeowner.

In the last six months, we have seen a dramatic increase in ORV riders invading our communities from the south and west, along with “weekenders” who come out to our neighborhoods to ride all day and night on other people’s property and cause wholesale destruction of our public lands. Residents in the Landers, Pipes Canyon, Yucca Mesa, Flamingo Heights and Wonder Valley are suffering from large illegal stagings, vandalism of no trespassing signs and the restoration of damaged areas, excessive noise and dust and an emboldened attitude resulting in harassment and intimidation.

This President’s Day weekend we expect an invasion of hundreds of ORVs riding illegally throughout the Basin. We have little or no enforcement from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM – at our last public meeting the head ranger from the Barstow field office stated that they would not even try to protect public lands in our neighborhoods!). Our local sheriff’s department and code enforcement are overwhelmed.

In the Morongo Basin, ORV abuse is escalating at an alarming rate. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard riders say, “This is a free country and I will ride wherever I want.” Freedom comes with responsibility and all of our rights are threatened when people purposely disobey the law. Dozens of Morongo Basin residents have documented incidents of intimidation and harassment by ORV riders who retaliate against people trying to defend their land. We are collecting evidence to present to the district attorney and county board of supervisors. We need leadership from our elected representatives and from responsible riders and local vendors to promote a “zero tolerance” policy for road rage by ORVs.

Despite efforts to bring thousands of grant dollars into the Morongo Basin for ORV law enforcement, we are going backwards.

ORV rider Web sites encourage illegal trespass as if the destruction of public and private property is a some kind of adolescent game. Some residents, disgusted from the attacks and frustrated by the lack of law enforcement, have retaliated against riders on their own. People must not fall into the trap of meeting ORV violence with more violence.

Don’t mourn, don’t hide, don’t give up, don’t retaliate. Learn the law, document illegal activity and the identity of the perpetrators, and insist that the BLM, sheriff’s department and code enforcement respond to your calls and cooperate with the community and step up enforcement to meet the crisis. Get smart, get organized and fight for your rights.