REVISION OF SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY ORDINANCE 3973
AS PROPOSED BY FRIENDS OF GIANT ROCK
INTERPRETATION AND RESPONSE
Community ORV Watch – July 2007
The Friends of Giant Rock proposal to revise San Bernardino County off-road vehicle Ordinance 3973 is not a proposal simply to revise that important Ordinance; it is a radical proposal to destroy that Ordinance. The removal of the trespass and staging provisions would gut the law and render it close to useless, sending us back to the conflict, lawlessness, and wasted enforcement resources that prevailed before the Ordinance went into effect. It would set the clock in reverse and blast us back to the “sand age.”
SUMMARY OF PROPOSAL:
The June 21, 2007 blog post on the Friends of Giant Rock (“FOGR”) Website details a proposal (“Proposal”) that was, by that account, “hand delivered” to the [County] Supervisors on June 19, 2007. That Proposal would specifically:
- Remove entirely the trespass provision (section #28.0403, “Operating Without Permission on Private or Public Property Prohibited”), that requires written permission to be riding on land not the rider’s own.
- Revise the Penalty section (#28.0407) to include a first-time-violator option of attending a County-administered rider education (“RIDE”) program that apparently does not exist except in this revision proposal.
Remove entirely the Staging Permit Required provision (section #28.0404), which governs large gatherings of vehicles and riders intending to ride, along with the Staging Definition and all other references to staging.
The revision would leave in place only two of the original Ordinance provisions: Noise Limits (section 28.0405); and Disturbing the Peace and Quiet (section 28.0406).
NOTE: The reader is encouraged to view side-by-side (PDF or Word Document) what the two ordinances look like, namely Ordinance 3973 that is currently in effect (on the left), and what there would be if FOGR’s revisions were adopted as proposed (on the right).
Let’s look more closely at the elements FOGR would drop:
Trespass. To summarize, Ordinance 3973 requires an OHV operator on the private property of another or on public property, except for certain roadways/easements, to maintain in their possession written permission from the owner of that property granting them permission to be there. In other words, if you’re on my land, you better have my permission.
Most Americans understand the idea of trespass. They embrace their right to control who is on their property. While they may or may not have a problem with for example the occasional foot traveler crossing a corner of their lot, a raging machine that repeatedly tears up the turf, runs over the pets, frightens the kids, and gives grandma a heart attack is another matter. State Code requires rural residents who want trespass protection to post their property. Unfortunately, in our wide desert lands “No Trespassing” signs are routinely torn down, barricades breached, and fences cut, and the ORV rider, if not governed by the Written Permission provision of Ordinance 3973, rages once again across one’s land, without recourse for the property owner and with no real way for law enforcement officers to distinguish rightful passage from trespass. This is exactly the situation that prevailed prior to the enactment of the Ordinance and section 28.0403, the trespass provision – a section FOGR wants removed from the Ordinance.
The writers of the FOGR proposed revision apparently see your land as theirs to ride across at will, unless you can physically defend it. The authors of the ordinance, which included residents, property owners, rider groups, law enforcement, and the Board of Supervisors in a carefully crafted consensus, see it otherwise.
Staging. In brief, Ordinance 3973 requires anyone who wants to stage an off-road event with more than 9 persons in attendance to apply for and receive a permit specifically for the purpose of assembling vehicles and riding. These large gatherings have historically had the potential to become the source of much grief for residents, spiraling out of control and greatly magnifying the effects of what in the case of one or two riders might be just a minor nuisance. The permit process gives law enforcement a measure of control over a situation that has become a major and/or repeated problem.
The language in this provision was requested specifically by the County Code Enforcement OHV team to give them the tools and flexibility they need to deal with such situations. The permit process also allows close-by neighbors who would be affected by the staging an opportunity to comment in advance of the event. It is important to understand that this provision is designed to handle problematic stagings; responsible riders who are considerate of their impact upon the neighborhood are unlikely to be affected. Also, the provision is complaint-driven, and the Code Enforcement OHV team usually responds to first-time violators with a warning rather than a citation.
The much-needed staging provision is entirely in line with traditional County policy regarding the issuing of permits for Special Events. It is a fair and reasonable approach to a stubborn source of ongoing conflict that would otherwise only continue to get worse with the growth of the OHV industry. But in a telling move, FOGR’s Proposal would cleanse the Ordinance of all reference to staging, dropping the provision entirely and providing no replacement. Harassed residents hardly need to be reminded that simply ignoring the existence of staging will not make the problem go away.
Clearly, the removal of these two provisions, Trespass and Staging, would leave critical holes in the Ordinance through which irresponsible riders would be able to drive with abandon. One is tempted to conclude that this is what FOGR wants, a return to the good ol’ days when riders were ungoverned, their machines ruled the sands, and angry residents were left standing impotently in the dust, cursing and shaking their fists, and without effective recourse.
So what’s left of the original Ordinance after FOGR gets done with it? Not much. Only two of the original provisions remain: Noise Limits, and Disturbing the Peace and Quiet. These two provisions, while important, are alone nowhere near sufficient to resolve the OHV conflicts between riders and residents and would leave law enforcement, once again, without adequate tools to address conflict, trespass, and property destruction. Back to the “sand age” we go.
FOGR does include a single new element in its revision Proposal, and it prominently bills this element as “The Real Answer” to the rider-resident conflict problem. This is an education program that does not, to our knowledge, currently exist, and which FOGR calls the “RIDE” program. Community ORV Watch vigorously supports education of riders and includes in its Mission a goal of “Public education about rights and responsibilities.” We encourage FOGR to pursue creating its rider education program but believe the completion of such a program should be a minimum requirement for every rider and is not appropriately a part of this ordinance.
An education program alone clearly is not a substitute for effective and proven provisions against OHV trespass and large-scale staging. Let’s be clear what’s at stake here: FOGR wants minimally expanded penalties but – for what? Not for trespass – in the FOGR Proposal, that’s gone. Not for violations of staging permits – in the FOGR Proposal, that’s gone. Though the Penalty section of the Ordinance remains largely intact in the FOGR Proposal with the exception of the addition of the education option, those penalties are not going to get much exercise when the Ordinance has been gutted of any meaningful violation provisions.
The inclusion of this education element in the FOGR revision Proposal does not disguise what would be the real effect of the Proposal, which would be to gut Ordinance 3973, remove reasonable, fair, and needed restrictions from riders, and take the desert back to the era of OHV conflict and destruction. Hardly “the real answer.”
Ordinance 3973 as enacted by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2006 is a reasonable, fair, and effective approach to reducing rider-resident conflict and handling the impact of the rapidly escalating numbers of off-road vehicles finding their way out to our desert neighborhoods. The Ordinance is an excellent start to protecting private property and the right of residents to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes while helping riders understand where and how they can ride responsibly. The Friends of Giant Rock Proposal, by dropping the key provisions regarding trespass and large-scale stagings, clearly would destroy Ordinance 3973. It would remove the Ordinance as an effective force for neighborhood peace and replace it with nothing but words that can’t be heard over the roar of engines.