Friday, September 9, 2011

The Desert Rat War

On Wednesday, I had the car due to taking Nancy in to work, so I was able to go to the lively Cornerstone Cafe in Camp Hill instead of the few places I'm usually limited to due to traveling on foot.

I ran into and joined an old friend who regularly meets with his geezer and geezerette buddies around 8 a.m. before heading out to do one or another volunteer jobs for the borough.

People drifted away one by one (a few actually had to go to work), and the last fellow told me about an eccentric friend of his who is a scenepainter for the studios in Los Angeles, but lives way out in the desert in a small collection of shacks without permits or property taxes. Like most movie/TV people, he works long and hard for a while then has some nice breaks between gigs (right now he's on Glee, so he has a three-year commitment). He's entirely off-grid, but that's a necessity where utility lines (not to mention the unwanted attention they would attract) are hugely expensive to run.

I've never been in the dry interior areas of California, but driving in Arizona a few years ago we had noticed similar situations: a lone trailer, maybe with a few cobbled-together outbuildings, baking in the sun at the end of a long gravelly road. You figure they pretty much want to be left alone and won't bother you if you respect that.

The next day, I came across a story about the ongoing drama involving these "desert rats" like my new acquaintance's friend in the high desert country of Antelope Valley, about an hour from Los Angeles. These 2200 square miles have attracted refugees from city and suburban life, mostly truckers and harmless nonconformists who, it turns out, knew little or nothing of required land-use permits and county building codes ever being applied to isolated rural dwellings.

Elderly Jacques Dupuis and his wife, residents near Llano for 22 years, were raided by a Nuisance Abatement Team from the county codes enforcement bureau, who called Mrs. Dupuis out, demanding identification while they surrounded her with guns drawn. In 1984, they got a permit for a water tank (water is delivered by truck, like in Mexico), but the county was now demanding they install a well, which after all the subsequent requirements were totalled up, would cost almost $90,000 (what there is of ground water is full of nitrates -- thus the water tank decision they made years ago). They eventually were forced to dismantle their home and move away.

Why did L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich re-activate the NAT's in 2006 (they had been used in previous decades to deal with serious health and safety issues like giant boars at a residence)? Why, when questioned about the raids and destruction of homes in a public meeting, did he refuse to answer anything?

Kenny Perkins, who moved his antique car business out of the city to the desert because of gang vandalism, has been harrassed almost to bankruptcy -- he has met all demands including moving a large outbuilding which "did not meet set-back requirements," even though it was at the end of his private dirt road. He had rented the cars to movie and television productions, but the county shut his business down. Is creating a new group of unemployed, homeless people a legitimate function of local government? Fourteen people have left the area already, broke and propertyless.

After spending 30 years building, from telephone poles and I-beams, his whimsical but sturdy "Phonehenge West" near Acton, Alan K. Fahey was arrested for not having sufficient permits. He and his family were evicted and the animals were impounded this summer (picture above). In other cases the residents were cited due to anonymous complaints supposedly from neighbors, about their "interference" and "offensiveness" -- they remain nameless and indeed are few and far between; in one case no nearer than 10 miles in any direction. All Native Americans, as well as many of the first '49ers, know what the real Code of the West is -- use any tactic or level of violence to muscle people off their land, no matter how dry, remote or forlorn it is.

Either Mr. Antonovich is a classic case of an authoritarian, "punishing" personality gone mad with power, or someone wants to acquire this land cheaply for minerals, fossil fuels, a pipeline or a highway. Remember the historical basis of Chinatown?

1 comment:

  1. Eminent domain can take anything, even if you pay for the land and own all the buildings and don't bother anyone. You pay taxes to live in the space so you can receive water, gas, light and protection. So pay your taxes and keep your head down. Besides, you have to match your neighbors because those are the rules.