I have lived just down the road from Black Rock Canyon (AKA Yogi Bear Park) for some thirty years and although I occasionally take visiting relatives up there I had no idea the little visitor’s center served as a part time Court House where a traveling Magistrate arraigns those folks who manage to find themselves crosswise with the law, on any of the regions federal lands.
A hundred or so are shepherded through about every other month but there were closer to two hundred last Friday. Scout’s honor, I pulled in a half hour early and couldn’t find a parking space and it was standing room only in the improvised Court!
The following circumstances are what provided motive, opportunity and an excuse to check this stuff out.
In mid December a group of family friends were out with two SUVs and a couple Quads on a well established dirt road near their cabin in Landers. The section of road they were on runs north and south in the south/east portion of Johnson Valley’s open recreation area near the Marine Base border. Just south of Emerson Dry Lake they were stopped by a “Conservation Officer” and everyone over 16 years old was cited. All six tickets were for trespassing onto the Base.
They were on a portion of the route that wanders slightly onto the edge of the Base for a short distance in order to skirt the foot of a mountain (see 34 degrees, 25 minutes, 30 seconds North and 116 degrees, 24 minutes west).
Trespass on federal land is a class “B” misdemeanor with the first offence punishable by a fine of no more than $5,000.00, six months in jail and 5 years probation.
A class “B” misdemeanor is a petty crime for which it is mandatory to appear. The Defendant is entitled to a Lawyer if he so wishes and upon request will be tried by Judge rather than a Magistrate. But he is not entitled to be tried by a Jury of his Peers.
And, it is a crime for which a conviction will become a matter of record. That’s an especially important consideration for the young person thinking of pleading guilty. He/she will be dogged with a “Federal Offence” on their record the rest of their life when perhaps their great sin was simply riding down the road with Dad and Mom! Not exactly the sort of explanation most prospective employers would likely embrace.
You know, many of us have long assumed that because the entire Border on that side of the Base is so poorly marked that there must be a bit of a buffer that allows for situations like this. This route has been used for 55 years that I know of, without the slightest indication that passing through there was a problem.
But the law is the law and apparently there is no “LEGAL” requirement for the Marines to identify there border in any way at all.
Still, the public is “LEGALLY” obliged to stay off the Base unless they have express permission to do otherwise. So if we’re near the Base, it is fully our responsibility to know where we are with respect the boundary, no matter how illusive it might be. And, we should accept that! It’s the law and it’s the responsible thing to do!
Even so, the Base could be more considerate on this matter. It’s ironic that if you or I wish the public not traverse OUR land we must indicate where it is and what we want while the Base, which only exists because the public foot’s the bill, won’t pick up one of those $80.00 hammers we bought them and install a sign before dishing out tickets of such a serious nature.
If one considers how much time and money is spent on their public relations campaigns trying to tell everybody what good neighbors they are you’d think they’d realize that just a small sign in the right place could be a big help to that effort!
But again, the law is the law so I will reserve criticism of the piss poor demarcation between this military Base and an open public recreation area, except to say that this is an incredibly stupid situation.
And if the small of encroachment where the citations were written is truly the safety concern the Officer claimed it to be, why did he sit there and wait for folks to enter rather stopping them at the border, telling them how the bear will eat their cabbage and letting them turn around?
Other measures could have been taken as well. The Base has effective Liaisons who are on speaking terms with all the recreational organizations related to the Johnson Valley issue. They are on friendly terms with all the news media too, yet they seem hell bent on using a last resort first, why? …well?
Well, Getting back to Black Rock:
Of the roughly 200 customers processed there Friday, no less than 38 that had been cited for trespass at that same place, near Emerson dry lake, and all of them had been cited by this Officer.
Did the Court think there might be something wrong with this picture? Maybe! The Magistrate heard the 38 cases together. He first set the fine at $50.00 plus a $25.00 administrative charge and $10.00 for good luck (or something).
The defendants entered their pleas individually as they were called in turn. All defendants plead guilty.
Some further discussion was allowed about the fairness of the citations, the legal ramifications of accepting the deal, i.e. records, subsequent offences etc. and the fact that most of the defendants live some distance away and it would not be cost effective to contest the charge, even if they won.
The Magistrate then cut the fine he had set, in half, and made it the Order of the Court that fine be $25.00 making the total $60.00 instead of eighty five. He set a “Status Conference” date and explained that payment must be made by then or the defendant must appear at the Status Conference for further consideration of the case.
One note: Signs were installed in the problem area and a news article was released but only after many citations had been written and complaints made.
So, is the Marine Base a good neighbor? …Your call!
I hope this information is helpful.
I have strong feelings about what is happening to Johnson Valley. Whatever happens there, will ultimately affect the entire Basin. I realize my report is somewhat critical of what I regard to be an unnecessary problem. BUT I do not condone irresponsible behavior by anyone!
Bad behavior when off-roading is jet fuel for the anti-off-road campaign!
I like what Kim said. Kim Carpenter with the Partnership for Johnson Valley and AMA Dist. 37 is committed to the education efforts that will save our sport. She puts it like this…
“LET ME MAKE THIS VERY CLEAR TO EVERYONE…..WE MUST BEGIN TO POLICE OURSELVES AND OUR NEIGHBORS. I truly believe that most off highway vehicle users are law abiding citizens. They truly don’t want to trespass on private property and they don’t believe in being rude to property owners who are trying to protect their property.
If you know someone who is riding in an illegal area you better get them to stop! If you are not sure, contact the BLM, Forest Service or California Trail Users Coalition for maps of San Bernardino County that shows the boundaries. Really, this is no joke anymore. If property owners keep complaining about people trespassing, threatening or harassing them we will continue to lose more areas and more rights.”