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CHP Cracks Down on Parking : Castaic Debates Driving Out Trucks the Town Thrives On

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Times Staff Writer

Inside ATTCO Truck Supplies in Castaic, the conversation focused on the hottest topic in town.

“They’re really giving truckers a hard time about parking, aren’t they?” customer Richard Brant said, referring to the hundreds of tickets the California Highway Patrol has issued in recent weeks.

“They’re trying to,” cashier Pete Toursie grumbled.

Brant paused. “Watch this place die.”

The words reflected a debate that is raging in Castaic about the role that truck-stop business should play in the burgeoning community at the northern end of the Santa Clarita Valley, 39 miles from Los Angeles.

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Businesses Thrived

For years, Castaic merchants have thrived almost exclusively on the business brought in by truckers heading north on the Golden State Freeway.

But that was before the area’s identity changed to that of a bedroom community for people who work in Los Angeles or the Santa Clarita Valley.

In eight years, the population of Castaic has grown from 2,500 to 5,000, and county planners predict 25,000 people will live there by 2010.

To the newer residents, trucking means bothersome heavy traffic and double- and triple-parking along Castaic Road, the unincorporated community’s main thoroughfare.

Castaic has been a popular truck stop for decades because of its ideal location. The town offers truckers a last chance to fuel up before they leave greater Los Angeles and make the steep climb up the Grapevine to the summit of the Tehachapi Mountains. Last month alone, 136,000 northbound trucks used the scales just outside of town.

Double-Parking Ignored

The CHP had long ignored double- and triple-parking along Castaic Road, and even looked the other way when trucks blocked driveways or parked facing the wrong way. After all, truckers often parked just long enough to grab a cup of coffee or sandwich.

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Many residents learned to avoid Castaic Road. As one resident put it: “I considered it their town.”

As the number of suburban commuters settling in Castaic mounted, so did the complaints to the CHP. During the last few months, the CHP has received at least one complaint every two or three days about truck parking, CHP Lt. Don Bossingham said.

Bossingham said the illegal parking can no longer be tolerated because Castaic is growing into an urban community.

“The real issue is land-use,” said CHP Assistant Chief Richard Noonan, a Canyon Country resident. Noonan said he has seen development envelop and ultimately push out truckers before in central California. “The truckers tend to lose out.”

CHP officers issued warnings in Castaic for two months, then began writing tickets. Since Aug. 1, officers have handed out more than 330 citations. The effect was immediate.

“The guys who have gotten tickets won’t come back,” said Roger Newborg, a tanned and burly driver from Visalia. Newborg said he has heard drivers on the CB talk about boycotting Castaic until the ticketing stops.

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“That’s going to kill our business,” complained Jeannie Watts, manager of a Foster’s Freeze that has started offering free coffee to truckers to win their favor.

Ron Wilson, owner of ATTCO Truck Supplies, said his store opened barely two years ago and recently expanded into the building next door. Now, sales are off about $400 a day, he said.

Some merchants, such as Dennis Havranek, manager of the Comfort Inn, have posted signs saying “We Welcome Truckers” to show they do not support the CHP ticketing campaign.

Many longtime residents are siding with the businesses. They blame newcomers for bringing down the CHP on truckers.

“These truckers are being run out of town because of development,” said Ronald M. Collitti, sales manager at Wollin Transport.

Harry Fedderson, a Castaic resident and horse breeder for 25 years, said the situation reminds him of city people moving into horse country and then complaining about the smell.

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The county joined the debate this year when it prepared a draft general plan for Castaic that calls for easing truck-stop businesses out of downtown to somewhere north of town.

The draft plan, still under consideration, does not call for mass eviction of truck-related businesses. It suggests that no new truck-stop businesses be allowed in hopes of weaning Castaic of trucking and vice versa.

Planners say the shift is needed to provide room for a commercial center in the area. Downtown Castaic consists mostly of fast-food restaurants and small grocery stores. There is no bank or supermarket, although Castaic got its first coin laundry six months ago.

Many merchants agree that the trucks will have to go eventually, but they wonder if the small community can support their businesses at this point.

“When there are 50,000 people in here, then do something” about the trucks, Watts said.

In response to merchant complaints, Jo Anne Darcy, an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich who also serves as a Santa Clarita city councilwoman, organized a meeting last week attended by about 40 business owners and county and CHP officials. Merchants offered various suggestions: a special zone for double-parking, parking zones with time limits, selective ticketing for only flagrant violations, even a parking “supervisor” who would direct truckers to free spots.

The response from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works was not encouraging for merchants. “I don’t know any legal way we can do this,” said John H. Kaufman, assistant deputy director of the traffic and lighting division. “You’re trying to legalize double-parking.”

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Still, Kaufman said he would study the issue for a possible solution.

Some truckers, meanwhile, said they will continue to visit Castaic despite the crackdown. Others will not.

Roland Wilson, an Inglewood trucker, recently doubled-parked in front of a mini-mall to grab three six-packs of soda. After learning of the CHP crackdown, he hopped back behind the wheel. “If they don’t want me to spend my money,” he said, “I’ll go somewhere else.”

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