Hired Guns: Part 6

April 10, 2017 § 49 Comments

Part 6: Trial by fire

“The twilight zone that lies between living memory and written history is one of the favorite breeding places of mythology.” C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow.

By now it should be pretty clear that PV Estates has a problem with racism, and has had one since it was established in 1923, regardless of whether current residents want to remember it. What is less clear is how that translates into harassment of cyclists by the city’s police department. But before I make that connection, it’s important to understand why the city’s decision to employ the LA Sheriff’s Department or to retain its municipal police force is so important for cyclists.

And to understand that, we need to jump up to the very recent past of January 27, 2017, when Deputy Castro of the LASD’s Lomita Substation pulled over thirteen cyclists and cited them for violating CVC 21201(a) while descending from the bottom of the Switchbacks to Portuguese Bend. The operation required Deputy Castro to call in three additional squad cars, and at one point a helicopter.

I suppose you never know when the underwear-clad crowd in clackety shoes will get unruly, turn into a violent mob, and hurt you with the legendary massive arms and fists of, uh, twigly bicycle riders. Thirteen citations later, the cyclists continued on their ride.

The first two of these citations were tried last Thursday in Torrance traffic court. The deputy showed up expecting a slam dunk win and was chagrined when the first case was dismissed and the the second was judged not guilty.

Deputy Castro’s claims were preposterous, and the judge didn’t believe that she had been able to see and identify each cyclist and locate their position while she was traveling 35 mph in the other direction across a median, and the cyclists were traveling at close to 30 mph in what she falsely called “a big mob.” On cross examination she admitted that she couldn’t identify the rider because she was, according to her own confused testimony, ten cars behind the group. When asked whether she had ID’d the cyclist by his calves and buttocks, she admitted she hadn’t.

It turns out that even in traffic court you can’t convict someone who you can’t identify.

But the bigger issue and by far the bigger problem was the court’s total resistance to the argument we made that the cyclists were not in violation of 21202(a) because the lane was of a substandard width, therefore releasing them from the “as far to the right as practicable” language of the statute. On cross examination, Deputy Castro freely admitted she was unfamiliar with the exception and in fact had never read it.

More disturbing, the judge was unfamiliar with and completely unmoved by the argument. We produced uncontroverted testimony by our expert, Dr. Gary Cziko, that the lane measured twelve feet at the most. Dr. Cziko produced measurements of the operational space needed by a bike (4 feet), the average width of a small car (6 feet), and the distance required for a car to pass a bike in California (3 feet). Even though the simple arithmetic showed that 13 feet can’t fit into a 12-foot lane–and that’s assuming zero operational room for the car–the judge was unimpressed with the law or the facts.

Similarly, the cyclist’s testimony regarding obstacles in the shoulder and against the fog line, though uncontroverted or even questioned, were ignored by the court. These two exceptions to 21202(a) are of course the backbone for vehicular cycling, or for what’s known as lane control when circumstances warrant. Having a court that was completely unwilling to countenance uncontroverted facts that demonstrated compliance with the law meant that the victory in this case was strictly a one-off ruling.

Cyclists who can’t defend themselves by showing that the officer failed to identify them, something that won’t happen when the rider is alone or in a group of two or three, will be unable to rely on the strongest argument for using the lane when necessary–at least in Torrance, and at least in front of this particular judge. Equally disturbing was the judge’s repeated apologies to the deputy for finding against the People. “I don’t fault you for citing them,” he said three or four times.

What was that supposed to mean, other than, “Keep writing bogus tickets.”

Deputy Castro took her cue and said, “I guess I’ll just have to up my game.”

Most disturbing is that despite the acquittal and dismissal of these two cases against cyclists lawfully controlling the lane, cyclists in PV are now more likely to be subject to harassment by Deputy Castro and her fellow deputies as they “up their game.” This is why education of the LASD deputies in this matter is imperative whether or not they take over PV Estates, since we already ride so much in Rancho PV.

With the exception of an event many years ago, PV Estates police have never ticketed an entire group for following the law, and at least the city’s web site makes mention of the right of cyclists to control the lane when circumstances warrant. Regardless of which way the city goes, cyclists who want to ride legally on the peninsula have their work cut out for them.

END

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§ 49 Responses to Hired Guns: Part 6

  • Redacted says:

    Eat a D Wanky, I don’t need a license to operate a bicycle –

    I got pulled over with I think Kosmo and King Harold by Lomita Sherriff’s for blasting a stop sign at the end of PV North by Malaga Cove – Jeff said these was sand on the road so we couldn’t safely slow down and had to enter into the lane – Harold and Jeff were doing like 40 mph at the time, I was doing like 20 😦 Cop was totally cool and let just go –

    I also got hit with a milkshake once over there – That’s the worst thing that has ever happened to me on a bicycle and I have done the French Toast ride –

    • fsethd says:

      Nice that they let it go. Was it vanilla or chocolate? I got hit by a sandwich crust once. Almost shattered my spine.

    • Sibex Czar says:

      My three most memorable thrown item weapons have been:

      1) A Rootbeer Float near the Iowa State Fair
      2) An entire watermelon thrown from the back of a truck of watermelons in Indiana
      3) A half smoked pack of Marlboro Lights hard box thrown from a vehicle in opposite direction that hit me square on my left shoulder (Ouch) in Fair Haven, NJ. at 530 am.

      #3 I tried to rationalize as perhaps the dude decided at that moment to quit smoking, and he simply tossed them from his window, and because of the early twilight, didn’t even know I was there, and it was simply wrong place right time to get hit by a cigarette pack.

      • fsethd says:

        Or maybe he thought you needed at least a half-pack of smokes to get the energy to pedal back home.

    • LesB says:

      “That’s the worst thing…”

      As Wanky has pointed out previously, that act constitutes FELONY battery and assault.

      Rightfully so. That could cause a cyclist to crash.

  • Jim says:

    Early morning, spring break, no traffic, sunny, dry roads, Via Lunada, riding alone, I slowed and rolled a right turn through a stop sign near the elementary school. With red lights flashing and horn sounding I was pulled over by one of PVE’s finest and given a ticket. Now, it’s true I was in violation because I didn’t come to a full stop at the stop sign and will not contest the $235 ticket, but the traffic stop and subsequent citation were very, very petty. I’m certain PVE residents will sleep soundly knowing the city’s police are rigidly enforcing minor traffic infractions by old men in Lycra riding their bicycles through their neighborhoods.

    • fsethd says:

      Go to court. Plead not guilty. Excellent chance the officer will not show for your trial date. The city has curtailed all PVEPD overtime due to the budget shortfall, and if the officer doesn’t show your case gets dismissed.

  • Michelle landes says:

    Glad you got off!! To be continued I’m sure ! Heard to of our freinds one orange one not pulled over for stop sign roll big O got ticket other did not orangeracism is real in PV!!

  • Judy says:

    You were not heard by a judge but a traffic commissioner. – A lawyer who gets paid to say sorry to cops. We had the same issue in san Diego but we lost. It then went to a judge on appeal and we won. You could use that win in another case or have to appeal to get a win to make an impression on the police.
    Since the loss in court by the SD sheriff’s department we haven’t had 21202 tickets in travel lanes. They did try successfully applying it to bike lanes.

    Judy

    • fsethd says:

      The “judge” it went to on appeal was a judge of the Superior Court, not a justice of the Appellate District for San Diego. Therefore his decision was not an opinion, simply a ruling. These are not published and are not precedent. You can’t “use” them in other cases, unfortunately.

      If there is no record for the appeal, i.e. a transcript or a recording, the best you can hope for is a win on appeal to the Superior Court’s appellate division. In order to have the appellate win that everyone is imagining, you’d need to lose the Superior Court appeal, then win in the appellate district court, and then have the decision certified for publication. Or you could lose there and appeal to the state supreme court.

      The cost and time are formidable, and since most of these bogus tickets are bogus, and there’s no novel legal issue, the likelihood is that you’ll win at the Superior Court appellate level and then head right back to square one when the next cyclist gets a ticket.

      • Serge Issakov says:

        Yeah, but Judy’s point stands. Since we won Ron Lacey’s court on appeal, there have been no more 21202 citations in that N SD County coastal area. At least as far as Judy and I know, and the two of us are likely to hear of such incidents. Might be coincidence, but I think they finally paid heed to the meaning, and perhaps maybe even the underlying reasoning, of BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE.

      • fsethd says:

        I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all. But what it means is that every traffic court in CA will have to get a case appealed and get a win for word to trickle down.

  • Waldo says:

    Time to bone up on appellate procedure it seems.

  • Serge Issakov says:

    It’s important that the narrow lane arguments were presented, at least. They can’t ignore them forever.

    Thank you!

  • Sibex Czar says:

    Clear the cobwebs of my memory please. The Police organization that you have had some success with on PCH was California Highway Patrol? Not the LASD.

    • fsethd says:

      It was LASD’s Agoura Hills Substation and CHP both, as they share jurisdiction for PCH north of Santa Monica.

  • Tom says:

    http://www.rcpi-ca.org/pages?id=7

    Sign Deputy Castro up! That’ll help her up her game…

  • dangerstu says:

    Those damn Cyclists, the’re a danger to society, lock ’em up I say.

  • shano92107 says:

    hope I’m not totally missing the point here but what grabs my attention is the judges comment “I don’t fault you for citing them.” This screams at me as a major PR problem for us (cyclists.)

    How do people come to this opinion? I’m betting a big part of it is when a group ride slams thru a red light loaded with impatient drivers in every direction. I’ve been on both sides (in the group and in the car (not simultaneously 😉 ) and while it doesnt bother me to sit it out at the light in my car while the bunch goes by I think I’m the exception. Its gotten to the point where I dont wear my shop sponsors kit in these rides as I dont want the shop owner to get that call about “ONE OF YOUR RIDERS SCREAM SCREAM RANT RANT RANT…”

    It really stupid sucks to have to wait out a red light when the front group made it (“dude we forced a MAJOR break in the SDBC ride today!”) but I think some better intra-group etiquette may need to be introduced if we don’t want to further degrade our popularity among people like your judge

    Thoughts?

  • shano92107 says:

    ok this is weird, re-posting my comment, sorry if this shows twice

    hope I’m not totally missing the point here but what grabs my attention is the judges comment “I don’t fault you for citing them.” This screams at me as a major PR problem for us (cyclists.)

    How do people come to this opinion? I’m betting a big part of it is when a group ride slams thru a red light loaded with impatient drivers in every direction. I’ve been on both sides (in the group and in the car (not simultaneously 😉 ) and while it doesnt bother me to sit it out at the light in my car while the bunch goes by I think I’m the exception. Its gotten to the point where I dont wear my shop sponsors kit in these rides as I dont want the shop owner to get that call about “ONE OF YOUR RIDERS SCREAM SCREAM RANT RANT RANT…”

    It really stupid sucks to have to wait out a red light when the front group made it (“dude we forced a MAJOR break in the SDBC ride today!”) but I think some better intra-group etiquette may need to be introduced if we don’t want to further degrade our popularity among people like your judge

    Thoughts?

    • fsethd says:

      The scariest thing about our judge is that he was a cyclist and let us know that he had completed several centuries as well as a couple of double centuries. He also commented that he refused to ride PV because “It terrifies me.”

      This really does go to the heart of John Forester’s most trenchant observation, which is that the laws and their enforcement are for, and are for maintaining, cycling incompetence.

      • shano92107 says:

        dont know how I missed that one but have never heard of Forester until your mention – I need to become more informed, thank you for the reference

      • Forester is an acquired taste. However, if you can get past his idiosyncrasies he offers much for everyone to learn. I highly recommend reading Effective Cycling, with tolerance shields enabled…

        As far as groups and red lights go, the key is gaps. If there is no gap then keep rolling. But if there is a gap and the light is red, you gotta stop… Motorists seem to get it if it’s truly a continuous flow like a long truck or trolley. But if there is a gap, that’s not only when they get annoyed, but it also becomes dangerous. No gaps!

      • fsethd says:

        Forester offers much for everyone to learn. But he has a dog complex.

  • LesB says:

    Meanwhile, in the news today:
    The cost to taxpayers to resolve legal claims against Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies accused of misconduct has soared over the last five years, according to records. The county’s payouts have jumped from $5.6 million to nearly $51 million over that time, a review by The Times found. Los Angeles Times

    • fsethd says:

      That doesn’t even begin to count the times they appear in court, clueless about the laws they purport to enforce.

  • Chris says:

    The 21202 problem is everywhere. If you check out the Abridged version of the CVC that the CHP provides to officers it is missing the critical subparts which give cyclists deference for lanes of obstacles and that’s what LASD and local agencies provide to their officers. As for commissioners, I don’t think their decisions have anything to do with the law except what is presented by the “protection” that is.

    • fsethd says:

      Commissioners are often much better than commissioners pro tem, who are moonlighting lawyers as opposed to full time positions.

  • dpcowboy54 says:

    I am pissed off lately, as is my occasional/regular practice/demeanor, and took a ride on the old hardtail this morning up the mountain to cook off some stress. Problem was getting to the trailhead, a whole mile away. A SD County Sheriff blasts me with his mega-horn and tells me to stop. The lane is maybe 11 feet wide, and the paved area to the right of the fog line is about 4 inches. The road is about a 10% grade. So I stop…and he proceeds to tell me what an idiot I am and that while I have the ‘right’ to use the road, I shouldn’t and blah…blah…blah. He could see I was about to erupt and he looked at me for the longest time with his hand so casually resting on his holster. Finally, I got to leave, did a 180, and coasted home (all downhill). The day got better, as I got to dig holes and use a jackhammer.
    Do you remember that song from the 80’s “If I had a Rocket Launcher”
    Bruce Cockburn had it right….In the song, Cockburn despairs of waiting for a political solution to the human crisis in Guatemala, and expresses the desire to take matters into his own hands.
    Same recipe: bring back Spike Bike.

    • fsethd says:

      The SD Sheriff’s Department, Alpine Substation, needs an intervention where they actually learn the law.

  • Hank says:

    So for those of us not really up to speed, let me see if I get this: (1) it was multiple citations for essentially just riding in a group, not single file on the edge inches from the end of pavement and (2) somewhat sadly for this lawyer/cyclist, no acknowledgement of a SUB PARAGRAPH of the code section they claimed to enforce? Sheesh, I thought the exception was at least somewhere else!!

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