Survivalists paint a brighter picture of their war games than do worried neighbors, police.
First, pesky peacocks bedeviled Palos Verdes Estates. Next, town gossips talked about the phantom tree poisoner, who tried to get rid of trees blocking ocean views.
Now the stirrings in this city of the well-to-do on the Palos Verdes Peninsula are about groups of hard-eyed young men in camouflage suits, seemingly packing all manner of weaponry.
They invade city parkland on weekends and roam the hills, playing survivalist games for hours.
They shoot paint balls at each other.
They have sandbagged foxhole hideaways.
And, says the chief of police, they are frightening the neighbors.
“I have had a lot of citizens call up scared to death saying there are men in their back yards with guns,” said Chief Gary Johanson.
Since Oct. 9, police have recorded 14 complaints about the survivalist games, which generally take place near the golf course, about a quarter-mile up a dirt road at the end of Via Tejon.
“My biggest concern is that someone is going to get shot. Over the past few months, officers have drawn down on people, thinking they were under attack,” the chief said.
In his office near the Malaga Cove shopping center, Johanson has a collection of confiscated paint guns that look remarkably like genuine weapons. He hefted one resembling a sawed-off shotgun. Others look like AK-47s, or worse.
“You point that at a policeman, you’re liable to get hurt,” he said.
He worries that citizens with real weapons will shoot a player, believing themselves under attack. “It hasn’t happened yet and I don’t want to wait until it does,” he said.
Johanson also frets that “a nut” armed with working weapons and real ammo might infiltrate the games and wreak havoc. “You can think up a lot of scary scenarios,” he said.
In any event, he means to put a stop to it.
Citing a city ordinance that bans the shooting of such guns, his officers confiscated a dozen last weekend. He wants the council to ban outright the possession of paint guns on public property in the city.
“That is my goal,” he said. “It would eliminate the gray areas. Our current ordinance says you can’t fire them but that means (police) have to see them fired and that is not always possible.”
Who the “perpetrators” are in this tale is no mystery.
They are teams of young men from Palos Verdes Estates, Torrance, Redondo Beach and San Pedro and they are annoyed that what they say is good clean outdoor fun is causing such an uproar.
Many of them have called the chief. They want their guns back. And the chief says eventually he will have to give them back.
“We understand the police are just doing their job,” said Tod Combs, 20, of Redondo Beach. “Our complaint is, why are the people making such a big hype about just us being there?
“We’re harming nobody. We are away from the houses. We are away from the people. The paint is water-soluble. I think we should be able to play as long as we are not disturbing anybody.”
Combs argues the games may even do some good. “A lot of the time we go up there, and there are kids drinking and smoking pot and when they see us, they leave.”
“It is harmless,” asserted Carl Kaermerle, 25, a Cal State Long Beach student who lives in Torrance. “It is just a bunch of friends.”
Kaermerle disputed the chief’s vision of the games’ darker potential.
“We don’t play in the night. It is secluded. There are no trespassing signs (posted by the players). Whenever someone comes by, we yell, ‘Civilians!’ ” he said.
Jaymes Bockoff, 15, a Rolling Hills High student, is captain of a survivalist team from Palos Verdes Estates known as the High Life. “We have made a sign that says, ‘Warning! Paint gun games in progress. Pedestrians proceed. Have no fear!’ ” he said.
Bockoff, whose $405 Bushmaster SI paint gun was confiscated last weekend, said he had been told by police that most of the complaints are coming from a woman who lives on Via Tejon.
“I’m upset because the watch commander told us three to four weeks ago that it was all right to play up there as long as we park somewhere else. That way, the lady wouldn’t complain,” he said.
Combs reported a recent incident where residents on Via Tejon “came out and hassled us about our guns. They said they would call the police. We said, ‘Fine, call the police,’ . . . .
“The cops came and told us to leave and we did. The neighbors told police to tow our cars away. They weren’t illegally parked.”
As leader of the High Life and a Palos Verdes Estates resident, Bockoff said he will ask the City Council to let the games go on, under city supervision. They can even collect a small fee to defray city expenses, he said.