Strict off-road rules are upheld by SB Board of Supervisors
From the LA Times 8/22/07
Strict off-road rules are upheld
By Sara Lin August 22, 2007
Spurred by desert homeowners tired of noise and dust, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to uphold an ordinance that clamps down on off-road riders gathering in groups or trespassing on private land.
But supervisors promised to review some aspects of the ordinance criticized by riders.
In particular, supervisors promised to look at the restriction on "staging" -- when a large group of riders gathers on private land. Under the ordinance, groups of 10 or more must apply for a $155 special-event permit, which off-road proponents said was too severe and interfered with family gatherings on holiday weekends.
"This issue is really resolved best by good manners on both sides. By good manners from people riding off-road vehicles and by neighbors and others who have to accept that not everyone enjoys the same form of recreation," said Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, whose district includes off-roading desert hotspots Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree. "There are some details I'd like to revisit. But I don't want to heartlessly try to resolve them today."
Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt agreed: "I think three weeks to get a permit for staging for [off-road] activity is too long. I think that for all the good this ordinance has done, that may be beyond what the board's intent was."
The ordinance, passed unanimously in April 2006, also established fines for off-roaders who ride on private property without written permission.
Frazier Haney, 25, said he was happy that the restrictions remained untouched, adding that kids on ATVs often speed down the street near his home in Joshua Tree.
"I think what everyone has to realize is that there are more people in California and, as places urbanize, they're just not going to be able to do things like they used to," he said.
Ray Pessa of Yucca Valley, who often rides with his family on land he owns in Johnson Valley, said he was satisfied with the supervisors' assurance that they would revisit the staging restriction.
"We're not against an ordinance, we're in favor of one," he said. "But we're not in favor of a staging permit that punishes legal and responsible riding families."
About 250 people gathered at Tuesday's board meeting, an even number testifying for and against the ordinance during a marathon public hearing.
Desert residents told supervisors the law was necessary to protect them against unruly off-roaders who tear through residential areas, kicking up dust.
In particular, many told the supervisors, the law helps keep in check dozens of out-of-towners who descend on the desert with their ATVs on long holiday weekends.
Besides, there's a nearby park in Johnson Valley specifically set aside for off-roaders, said Phil Klasky, a part-time Wonder Valley resident opposed to any changes to the ordinance. The Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area is the largest of its kind in the state.
Off-road proponents described their sport as a family-friendly tradition that was being marred by a few reckless riders.
"My family has been off-roading for four generations. I'm a little upset it came to this," said Cathy Hawkins, 56, of Yucca Valley. "I want you to go get the bad guys and let the rest of us raise our kids in the manner that we've lived for generations."
Riverside and San Bernardino counties are home to one-fifth of the state's 1.1 million riders, state parks officials said. Riverside County officials are considering their own new rules for off-roaders, including restricting riding times and the number of vehicles per property.
As in San Bernardino county, riders in Los Angeles County must carry written permission to ride on private property. About 158,000 off-roaders live in Los Angeles County.
Inland counties have long struggled with how to resolve conflicts between their booming populations and off-roaders used to riding through long stretches of unpopulated desert.
Fifteen or 20 years ago, there were 60% less people in the high desert, said Randy Rogers, San Bernardino County's chief of code enforcement.
"So if somebody rode down a dirt road, the chances of them riding where they never passed a house was pretty good," he said. "But you just can't do that now."