"This was their Disneyland ride. About every day you'd have these guys going up and down the roads adjacent my house," said Fuller, 73, a Joshua Tree resident of more than 10 years. "You could put up fences, signs or anything else but if they wanted to go into an area bad enough, down would come everything."
When the county adopted an ordinance in August 2006 prohibiting 10 or more people from congregating on private property for off-road activity without a permit, Fuller said the problem essentially went away.
But now, the county is considering repealing the portion of the ordinance requiring the permit, and Fuller is worried it will open the floodgates once again for illegal activity to occur.
"We have the same rights as people living in urban areas. Just because we live in a rural area doesn't mean we should have a lesser quality of life," Fuller said.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote, in late January or early February, to amend county ordinance 3973. The potential change would allow 199 people or less to gather on private property 2 1/2 acres or more in size for off roading activity without obtaining a permit. If 200 people or more gather, a permit must be obtained.
When Brad Mitzelfelt was appointed to the
Mitzelfelt and his staff began discussing the issue with then Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, and then Neil Derry, who succeeded Hansberger last year and whose district also includes a chunk of the High Desert.
Mitzelfelt said he had a problem with the staging permit requirements mandated in the ordinance from the get-go, as well as the hefty $155 permit fee.
"I thought it was excessive, and I think that history has backed up my contention," Mitzelfelt said.
Since the ordinance was adopted, the county has received only 26 applications for nine groups of people wanting to gather in mass on private property for off roading activity, Mitzelfelt said.
"That tells me we have a bad law on the books and it needs to be repealed," said Mitzelfelt. "The fact that no one bothers to get a permit tells me it's not needed or it is so unreasonable that no one will comply with it."
The county adopted the ordinance to protect residents from illegal off-roading activity and to give code enforcement some teeth to enforce off roading violations. Four code enforcement officers have been tasked with enforcing the ordinance, working Thursday through Monday and long holidays to ensure they are cracking down at peak times, Zook said.
Mitzelfelt said even without the staging permit requirements, the ordinance is a strong one. Off-roaders can still be cited for illegally trespassing or disturbing the peace.
Ray Pessa, president of Friends of Giant Rock, a nonprofit that promotes responsible off-highway vehicle recreation and keeping off-roading areas open, agrees with Fuller on one thing: The ordinance has led to a drastic decrease in illegal activity and public disturbances.
He just disagrees with Fuller on the reason why things have changed for the better.
"The reason it's better is because of education and the visibility of code enforcement officers who have increased their number in the field and have made several contacts with off-roaders," Pessa said. "As far as the staging permits go, it's been more than three years since it's been in effect and there's only been 10 people in San Bernardino County who have applied, and yet the conditions have improved, and it can't be because those 10 people took out those permits."
If only Fuller could be so optimistic.
While he agrees that code enforcement has done some good, and word has spread about their increased presence, Fuller said the presence of code enforcement is still not enough to get a firm grip on the issue when you consider the size of the county and the ground officers must cover.
"We can call code enforcement and hope they will come, but chances are they would not be out that day," Fuller said.
The good work code enforcement does do, Fuller said, tends to put a temporary dent on the problem, but many offenders carry police scanners and keep a watchful eye out for the officers, and can typically avoid citations.
Despite the naysayers, Fuller said the prohibiting of 10 or more people to gather on private property for off roading activity without a permit led to a drastic decrease in illegal activity.
"When it became prohibited, it absolutely stopped," he said.