I’d like to see a show of hands: How many have received a traffic ticket? Quite a few. How many contested the ticket in court? Not so many hands this time.
Entering a closed area of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) may get you a traffic ticket. The fine is $50, but by the time all the public agencies add their fees, it comes to $281. Ironically, the MROSD receives little, if any, of the fine (according to a ranger), which goes into the county general fund, to pay for a new courthouse, or whatever other use the county sees fit.
Our date with destiny took place on Oct. 28, 2012. On a beautiful warm fall day we four approached Loma Prieta Road from the southwest, taking the traditional route pioneered by Jobst Brandt in the late-1950s.
I noticed for the first time the new MROSD signs. We stopped to take photos at the base of Loma Prieta summit where we saw some youths tearing up the hillside in their 4-wheel drive truck. Later we saw an SUV with off-road motorbikes parked on the road.
At Mt. Umunhum Road we turned right to head down when we encountered about a dozen hikers being ticketed by several MROSD rangers and a county sheriff. One hiker, wanted on a parole violation, was handcuffed. So we joined the fun and got our tickets.
The hikers had unwittingly hiked up to the closed military base and were seen on camera. I’m told it’s a private camera (probably McQueen family, based on this account and image from the other approach to Thayer) and not MROSD’s. I don’t know if they entered the base, but if they did it was a misdemeanor, which is a more serious offense than a traffic ticket.
We stood around and had a friendly talk with the MROSD rangers while Ranger Mike Perez wrote out the tickets. I was the only one without ID so he had to take my word that the information I provided was accurate. Mike became MROSD peace officer number 25 in 2006 and has a masters degree in U.S. colonial history. I figured him for ex-military based on his demeanor.
Once we had our tickets, we headed down Mt. Umunhum Road and home. I would prefer taking Loma Prieta the entire way, but it runs past the base, so Mt. Umunhum Road is the only other option.
I had never been to court, so I figured I should go through the motions, especially since the courthouse was only two miles from where I live and I’m paying for the privilege with my taxes.
I won’t go into all the legal options, of which there are many, including filing a plea online. Back in the early 1980s you might have been able to write a letter and have a ticket dismissed (as I have done), but these days with so many people in the system, you’re just a number. Get in line.
I showed up at court and sat right next to Officer Perez as we waited for the trial, but because he was wearing a suit and so was I, we didn’t recognize one another! Otherwise I would have introduced myself and we could have had a friendly conversation.
While waiting in the court room I observed the routine. Judge Stephen Yep has a disarming way about him that puts people at ease. He quickly dismissed a couple of cases because the accusing officer did not show. A fine is dismissed when that happens.
My case came up and I stood in front of the judge at a podium, Officer Perez to my right. Perez started by describing what happened. Judge Yep asked me if what he said was accurate and I said yes.
I then told my side of the story, which was to argue that the road was public. The judge asked me a couple times if I had seen the MROSD signs, perhaps offering me an “out,” but I was not there to avoid the fine. The judge did show some interest when I described Jobst Brandt’s early day rides. He asked who he was, so I gave a little history. However, he wasn’t interested in seeing photos I brought.
The judge then said that while he respected my right to exercise my constitutional rights, I was guilty. I had already paid the fine, so there was nothing more to do.
One other rider went to court a month later and had the same judge. Brian’s fine was reduced to $150 and the judge twice told him that he could appeal. He said that a traffic court couldn’t rule on his claim that the roads were public and/or county. He also asked the ranger if he thought that bikes were damaging the road, a question that Brian interpreted as the judge being puzzled as to why the roads have been closed for so long.
When I think about government, how it operates and what people expect from it, it raises a lot of philosophical issues about humankind and how we interact. More on that later…