Celebrate the Freedom to Have Your Life Destroyed by County Busybodies


If you still doubt that there is a conspiracy to overrun every square inch of America with latte-sipping assholes, read Mars Melnicoff's LA Weekly feature on Los Angeles County's war against hillbilly landowners in the high desert. I am quoted in the story, which examines County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's deployment of "nuisance abatement teams" against rural residents, and Reason TV is working on a piece about this issue. I would have blogged the story earlier, but it is so infuriating that every time I think about it I can feel an actual coming-to-join-you-Elizabeth heart attack coming on: 

On Oct. 17, 2007, Marcelle opened the door to a loud knock. Her heart jumped when she found a man backed by two armed county agents in bulletproof vests. She was alone in the cabin, a dot in the vast open space of the Antelope Valley, without a neighbor for more than half a mile. She feared that something had happened to her daughter, who was visiting from Montreal.

The men demanded her driver's license, telling her, "This building is not permitted — everything must go." Normally sassy, Marcelle handed over her ID — even her green card, just in case. Stepping out, she realized that her 1,000-square-foot cabin was surrounded by men with drawn guns. "You have no right to be here," one informed her. Baffled and shaking with fear, she called her daughter — please come right away.

As her ordeal wore on, she heard one agent, looking inside their comfortable cabin, say to another: "This one's a real shame — this is a real nice one."

A "shame" because the authorities eventually would enact some of the most powerful rules imaginable against rural residents: the order to bring the home up to current codes or dismantle the 26-year-old cabin, leaving only bare ground.

"They wouldn't let me grandfather in the water tank," Jacques Dupuis says. "It is so heart-wrenching because there was a way to salvage this, but they wouldn't work with me. It was, 'Tear it down. Period.'?"

In order to clear the title on their land, the Dupuises are spending what would have been peaceful retirement days dismantling every board and nail of their home — by hand — because they can't afford to hire a crew.

This is in the Antelope Valley, a desert of misfired towns and remote settlements, where truck drivers and retirees move for no other reason than the probability that their right to be left alone will be respected. These are people who have done nothing wrong and are not bothering anybody. 

That's not just me making that claim: The County of Los Angeles agrees. That's why nuisance abatement actions always lack actual criminal charges. In her on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-that L.A. Times coverage of Alan Kimble Fahey's conviction on 12 misdemeanor counts for his work of art Phonehenge West, Ann M. Simmons never bothered to ask why none of the charges against Fahey involved any infringement on any other human being. Simmons noted repeatedly that Fahey was accused of maintaining un-permitted properties, "unlawful use of land," exceeding a 35-foot height limit and possessing noncommercial wind turbines, but she attributed any possible complaint about these piddling prosecutions to zealots "who share [Fahey's] defiance of code enforcement." Her most prominent question to county officials was why they hadn't gone after Fahey sooner. She repeated the prosecutor's claim that "Phonehenge is a fire hazard" without noting that Fahey was only on trial for paperwork violations. And in what may be a new record for the LAT's never-insignificant self-regard, Simmons kept track of how Fahey's Facebook presence grew as a result of her reporting. You could have read the complete L.A. Times coverage without realizing the case against Fahey contained not a single significant charge: no fire hazard, no child endangerment (though Fahey has a minor son), no contamination of neighboring properties, no threat to public health, no nothing. Bupkes. 

Melnicoff focuses on people who are no more ready for polite society than Fahey is, but because they are also not particularly colorful characters, the Weekly story gets to the real truth: What's going on in the Antelope Valley is not a human interest story about a quirky character fighting the cooler heads of his community. It is a hard news story about the class war in Los Angeles, in which swarms of officers from a multitude of new offices are engaged in a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the delusional object of turning a sprawling desert county into New York West.