By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Kimon Manolius, a partner at Hanson Bridgett law firm in San Francisco, heads the firm's public agency litigation practice group. A former prosecutor for the city and county of San Francisco, he represents public agencies enforcing codes. "If it's not fixed, the county has little to do but sue because it endangers life or limb or public safety in some way," Manolius says. He says he has never been involved in a case that didn't deal with a "real problem."
Real problems to Manolius would be "falling stairwells ... running a drug lab, repainting a house and making lead paint airborne, or mixing medical waste and normal waste."
Manolius' dramatic descriptions contrast with the violations described by many Antelope Valley residents targeted by NAT. Tim Cavanaugh, senior editor of Reason, a libertarian magazine, says Los Angeles County has "started going after the lifestyle that has existed forever in the Antelope Valley." And such campaigns, Cavanaugh says, can escalate.
McNamara points to Redwing, Ariz., where his institute is fighting the city's sweeping code enforcement. The government there wants to "look in every single rental unit in the city ... literally root around in your closet."
Joe Rajkovacz, director of regulatory affairs for Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says there is no doubt L.A. County has launched a campaign to change life in the high desert, whether it admits it or not.
Rajkovacz, whose group is the largest trucking association in North America, for 29 years "wintered over" in Antelope Valley, where his sister lives.
Her 10 acres include a pear orchard where he parked his big rig for years. "Do that today, and you get a ticket," he says.
But several NAT team members said times are changing in the Antelope Valley; city people are moving to the desert and they expect a higher level of cleanliness and conformity. Of big rigs parked on private property, Grover says, "You know, you're parking semi trucks in the backyard of a residential neighborhood. It's not necessarily approved to do that."
But Rajkovacz suggests that Antonovich's code enforcement pressure on independent truckers in the desert reveals that Los Angeles County leaders, including Antonovich, are ignorant about the trucking industry. "He probably thinks there are six or seven big companies," Rajkovacz says, but in fact small-business truckers who own 20 trucks or fewer make up 96 percent of the industry. People with one truck make up half of all registered "motor carriers" in the U.S.
"A person owning one truck is not going to own a terminal — they're going to choose to live in a rural area" where they can park a semi truck, he says. "It just boggles the mind, when you look at L.A. metro — a complete lack of respect for these small businesses."
With truckers integral to L.A.'s status as a leading goods-transportation hub, Rajkovacz says the attitude of " 'Now we are going to show up with guns' — it's insanity. Treating taxpaying citizens like criminals. ... And Antonovich says he wants a transport hub in Antelope Valley."
On Antonovich's website, he does tout "an 'inland port' for the Antelope Valley to encourage the movement of long-distance freight to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by rail." Truckers would pick up the containers in Antelope Valley. But county officials say they can't park on much of the land they own.
Government officials have "no idea — they think you can just park your truck in a big dirt lot," Rajkovacz says. "But if you don't park in a secure area, you get vandalized." A new truck runs $130,000 or more. When Scott Sterner, the trucker who chopped his two containers into pieces to meet county code, left his rig overnight at a construction site to which he was hauling material — an effort to comply with county orders not to store his rig on his own land — his truck was stripped.
"They're not talking about setting up whorehouses," Rajkovacz says. "They live in the high desert, a lot in Antelope Valley. There's a reason they live in rural, downtrodden areas — because that's all they can afford."
Tony Bell, Antonovich's spokesman, says, "To say the whole community is filled with truckers and construction workers — I don't think so." But AVTO cites California DMV statistics showing that Littlerock's ZIP code, 93543, has 266 Class A drivers. Multiply that by four, to represent the average family, and 1,064 people may be directly supported by truckers, out of a population of about 11,000 living in 3,600 households.
The crackdown, and the denial by some that a crackdown is under way, have fueled speculation as to Antonovich's, Cooley's and the NAT teams' motives. Residents suggest "they need to justify their jobs — and fill their budget." Others fear a land grab for future development plans. Bell calls that an "absurd" idea that he won't "validate" with a response.
But McNamara, working for an organization that hauls government entities into court, says: "That certainly does happen. We have seen zoning enforcement that can be explained by nothing else." The other key motivator, he says, is "bureaucratic bloody-mindedness."