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Antelope Valley truckers upset by stepped-up parking enforcement

For more than 20 years, Tom Fidger has parked his big rig and trailers in the backyard of his home in the rural northern L.A. County town of Littlerock.

According to Fidger, there was rarely a complaint.

“It’s been the kind of neighborhood that’s live and let live,” said the 61-year-old trucker, who makes his living hauling items such as construction equipment, rock and sand.

But a recent surge in complaints over illegal truck parking in the southeast Antelope Valley communities of Littlerock and Sun Village has led to increased enforcement of decades-old parking regulations.

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Many local truckers argue that the regulations are overly restrictive, and they feel they are being unfairly targeted for citations.

“If you drive around, you’ll see there isn’t a single residence here that doesn’t have something on it that code enforcement wouldn’t see as a violation,” Fidger said.

He estimated that between 75 and 100 truckers who live in Littlerock are affected by the parking regulations but said he knows of scores of others facing similar situations throughout the Antelope Valley. Statistics from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn., a national trucking organization, show that the group has almost 700 members in Los Angeles County, with most located in the High Desert.

There were 67 parking-related citations issued to commercial truckers in Littlerock and Sun Village in 2008, compared with 24 in 2007, according to statistics from the county’s zoning enforcement department.

Continuous violation of the parking rules could lead to a conviction, with fines up to $1,000 and the threat of six months in jail for unpaid penalties, county officials said.

Norm Hickling, county Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s field deputy for the Antelope Valley, rejected the contention that truckers were being targeted for citations. Hickling said the increase in citations corresponded with the number of complaints filed with code enforcement officials.

Oscar A. Gomez, a county supervising regional planner for zoning enforcement, said in written comments that his department had worked with truckers who park in residential neighborhoods in an effort to obtain voluntary compliance. Truckers are supposed to park at an off-site garage or other designated locations.

“They are aware of the complaints and concerns of the community,” Gomez said.

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Complainants are kept anonymous -- to the chagrin of many truckers.

“If we knew who they were, we could go talk to them and try to work something out,” Fidger said.

Grievances primarily centered on noise, aesthetics and public safety, Hickling said. Concerns had also been raised about the damage that large trucks cause rural roadways, he said.

Bill Benton, 54, a trucker for more than three decades, said the cost of renting or building a garage is prohibitive for most drivers. The economic downturn has left many struggling to find work.

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Joe Rajkovacz, a regulatory affairs specialist with the Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn., which boasts more than 160,000 members across the U.S., said “bankruptcies are at an all-time high in the trucking industry.”

In addition, truckers argue that secure off-site parking is hard to find, and if their vehicles are left unattended in a remote area and get vandalized, their insurance premiums would skyrocket.

Truckers also objected to claims that big rigs are an eyesore, because many of them park their vehicles directly behind homes and out of clear view from the roadway. As for ruining the roads, the big rig operators said they typically travel from home and back without cargo.

In a move to try to overturn the truck parking ban, or at least reach a compromise, Benton and Fidger last year spearheaded the formation of the Antelope Valley Truckers Organization. The parking issue also prompted Fidger to run for a seat on Littlerock’s Town Council. He was elected in November.

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“We have to get organized in order to do this right,” said Benton, president of the truckers’ group. “You won’t be heard unless there are a few of you.”

This point has been proved in many other communities across the country, said Rajkovacz. In Hesperia last year, big rig operators successfully fought a truck parking ban in residential neighborhoods.

The Antelope Valley truckers have started organizing forums and urging members to attend town hall meetings to voice their opinions on the truck parking ban. The operators are also preparing parking consent forms that they will request their neighbors to sign.

“If your immediate neighbor doesn’t object, then what’s the problem?” said Rajkovacz, who suggested the consent form idea as a possible resolution.

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The truckers are also drawing up a petition, urging county officials to “rethink city-style zoning interpretations” that are “having a bad effect on our rural lifestyle.”

Littlerock Town Councilman David Cleveland, who said he supports the truckers, believes that urban sprawl is affecting community standards and practices typical for a rural setting such as Littlerock, where single-story homes and trailers typically sit on at least an acre and many people rear livestock.

“If you move to an area like this, you’ve got to expect things like this,” Fidger said. “It’s not Beverly Hills.”

The open space is what attracted trucker Scott Sterner to the area four years ago after he confronted problems parking his big rig in Sylmar and the Santa Clarita Valley.

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Since moving to Littlerock, the 30-year trucker has been cited for storing trailers in his backyard. Now he fears reprisals for the big red transfer-dump truck that sits behind his house.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Sterner, 51. “I’m looking for my next place.”

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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