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Boulevard of broken cars
Plan to limit vehicles moves to next step despite protests, schism on board
By JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer
Posted: Tuesday July 5th, 2005, 11:05 PM
Last Updated: Tuesday July 5th, 2005, 11:31 PM
Kern County supervisors disagreed sharply Tuesday over an ordinance that will make it illegal to keep more than one visible “junk” vehicle on a piece of property.
But the controversial ordinance moved forward to a second reading in August with a 3-2 vote of the board — despite a hail of abuse from car lovers.
Supervisors Jon McQuiston, who voted with Supervisor Michael Rubio against the ordinance, said the county has gone overboard.
“I do believe we’re in a rush to judgment. I believe the ordinance as it exists is vague,” he told county staff.
The trouble, for the people trying to write the county ordinance, is legislating the difference between a hobbiest or a person letting junk accumulate on his property, board Chairman Ray Watson said.
Sanford Spaulding II understands that trouble.
He has a 1960 American Motors Rambler and a Buick Opel in the front driveway of his Oildale home.
Cobwebs fill the faded red Rambler’s back seats and web it to the fence nearby. Weeds have grown up around the wheels.
The pair of cars, and a Volkswagen Bug that was due to show up Tuesday, are in restoration, Spaulding said.
He doesn’t like the sound of the county ordinance.
“It’s ridiculous to say you can’t have your possessions,” he said.
But he understands what county leaders were thinking when they enacted the rule.
“There’s a difference between having an old car and having a bunch of junk in your front yard,” he said. “It’s a fine line between a hobby and neglect.”
In his eyes, his cars are more than junk.
They are operational — though the Rambler needs a smog certification and the Opel needs a new battery.
And they inspired emotional connections.
The Rambler is particularly special to Spaulding. His first car was a Rambler.
“Herbie was a station wagon and it became my love-mobile,” Spaulding said. “I lost my virginity in that car.”
Spaulding has always owned at least one Rambler.
“This is my 41st Rambler,” he said.
He’s restoring the car for his 16-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who is taking driving lessons now.
But Spaulding was actually surprised the county hasn’t set up any rules to control “junk” cars before.
He grew up in Wasco and that city forced him to sell a large collection of cars because he could not afford a junk yard permit.
The issue is far from over.
Usually second readings of ordinance changes are routine.
“This one won’t be,” said Resource Management Agency director David Price III, whose staff drafted the law.
Car lovers, collectors and restorers came out in force to oppose the ordinance — a piece of law they called an invasion of their property rights.
“I own that property and I have a right to do whatever I want with it, as long as it’s not illegal. You are making it illegal. This ordinance is a violation of our civil rights,” said Pat Criswell-Hammett.
Their pleas were made with passion and no small amount of anger. But the approval of the ordinance had the car lovers talking about hiring a lawyer.
Curtis Hobbs said the county’s attempt to control his hobby is humiliating.
“I look at all your faces and I see nothing but discrimination,” he said. “It makes me want to leave the state of California, the San Joaquin Valley and Bakersfield. Are we in the United States, Russia or China? (It’s) Communism — telling us what to do.”
But three of the five supervisors disagreed.
“I don’t think anybody has rights unless they have responsibility,” said Watson. “If you have a hobby and are not willing to invest what it takes (not to impact your neighbors) then I have a problem with that.”
Supervisor Barbara Patrick told the speakers that other people have rights too.
“As long as you have a six-foot fence, as I understand it, it’s not a problem,” she said. “I know you feel this is about life, liberty and happiness. So do your next-door neighbors who call and complain.”