Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket Continues

Santa Ynez River

“The writer’s duty to speak the truthespecially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the sacred cows of his society. And I mean all sacred cows.”

Edward Abbey, “A Writer’s Credo”

“Virtually no article of faith, ideology, or institution—be this sacred or profane, this worldly or otherworldly—escapes his scrutiny.”

—Max Oelschlaeger on Henry David Thoreau, “The Idea of Wilderness” 

When I use developed day-use sites to picnic or BBQ I pay the fee.

But we the people do not have to pay Parks Management Company anything to drive Santa Ynez River Road on the way to Red Rock swimming hole or to park in the dirt. So don’t.

*   *   *

Folks, Parks Management Company is up to their ol’ dirty business of fleecing unsuspecting recreationists of their hard earned money.

They have been perpetrating this outrage for years now.

Recall my post on the matter from 2017:

Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket

*   *   *

On Saturday, May 25th, 2019, I was pestered—or is harassment and bullying at this point?—for over ten minutes by two different PMC employees while sitting in my car at the checkpoint they’ve long ago installed at First Crossing in order to halt traffic and demand money.

When I first drove up to the checkpoint at around 11 or 12 noon the middle-aged blue eyed woman with straight sandy blonde hair asked for $10 for day-use.

“For what,” I simply asked.

The tone and mood was business-like but amiable and fine.

She repeated herself in some form saying there was a $10 fee for day-use.

I told her I was not using the day-use areas.

Again she requested payment having me believe that I was not allowed to pass without handing over cash.

I told her that I was not paying anything, and that she was wrong, and that she could not bar access to a public road. I told her that I wanted to talk to somebody else, somebody in charge, because this was not right.

She then questioned me as to my intent in wanting to drive the road, wanting to know where I was going, what I was doing.

This is an outrageous question. PMC has no business interrogating people as to their intent when driving a public road.

When a driver is pulled over by a cop, that driver does not have to answer any questions nor say anything at all to that cop. Not a word.

And we certainly don’t have to answer the questions of PMC interrogators.

I told her I was going to park on the side of the road in the dirt.

She told me I was not allowed to do that; that there was no parking beyond First Crossing without payment of a day-use fee to PMC.

I told her that was not true and that she was incorrect. I told her that this—Santa Ynez River Road—is a public road and that I did not have to pay anything to anybody to drive it.

This would be like plopping down a checkpoint at Cachuma Saddle on Figueroa Mountain on the way to Davy Brown Campground and NIRA campground, and barring access to the entire length of the road leading there except to those people whom pay a camping fee even if they were not camping.

“It’s a $20 fee for camping,” the checkpoint worker would demand.

“But I’m not camping,” I’d reply. “I’m just driving the road and parking in the dirt.”

“It’s a $20 fee,” they’d continue to insist.

That’s some BS right there.

If I am not using the developed, improved facilities and day-use recreation sites then I am not paying the fee and nor am I legally obligated to do so.

The checkpoint at First Crossing operated by Park’s Management Company. PMC has a profit incentive to keep the public uninformed and under the mistaken impression that people have to pay a fee and the company actively works to keep people uninformed, as explained in this post and in a previous post.

At this point in the argument a younger dude with a ring through his lip and a small scraggly mustache stepped up and began a terribly uninformed attempt to wax eloquent about my rights and the law and bowl me over with his understanding of the matter. He cited a law from 1985.

Excuse me. Pardon me. But this man was an ignoramus. The other option, an out-and-out liar. I would not ordinarily mention it but for what he did in trying to get my money.

“I’ve been coming up here since before ’85,” I said, “and I’m well aware of how it works around here and I have never paid to drive the road. So what’s your point?”

Of course, he had no point other than thinking he could intimidate me with some vague reference to a law from 34 years ago.

At what point does this behavior become bullying?

It didn’t work. He had no other reply, because he didn’t understand what it was he was talking about or the law from ’85 he referenced.

So he changed the subject.

The guy then told me that I could not “park along the road especially at night.” I raised a finger and interrupted him.

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute here. Do you hear what you just told me? That I can’t park along the road. Especially at night? That’s not true at all. And I’m also not parking at night anyway so it’s irrelevant. And what’s with ‘especially’? It’s either legal or not. There is nothing especially about it. You need to be careful about what you say and choose your words more judiciously, because you’re talking about the law and my rights and what you’re saying is not true.”

In trying to get me to pay PMC money the guy told me something that is absolutely not true. He misrepresented the law in pursuit of profit. Say nothing of intent if you wish, but that is what happened.

When called out the guy began to stumble and stutter, his eyes shooting up to the corner of their sockets in thought as he floundered about trying to formulate a reasonable thought and put it into coherent sentences.

Mariposa lily or Calochortus growing along the Santa Ynez River.

The man with a ring in his lip had no intelligible reply. So he once more changed the subject.

He then told me that the public road stops at First Crossing there at the checkpoint booth. This false statement further gave the impression that I had no right to drive the road or access public forest without paying PMC.

I interrupted him again. That is not true either. Paradise Road is a Santa Barbara County road which runs to and meets Santa Ynez River Road (Forest Route 5N18) at First Crossing: See map.

From First Crossing onward Santa Ynez River Road (Forest Route 5N18) is a federal road by way of the US Forest Service.

In other words: It’s a public road. People are legally allowed to drive Santa Ynez River Road and park in unimproved dirt pull-outs along this road at any time, day or night.

When I sleep in the Los Padres National Forest at Matias Camp, I park in a dirt pull-out along Santa Ynez River Road. Overnight. This is legal.

When I hike the Camuesa Connector Trail I park day or night in a dirt pull-out along Santa Ynez River Road. This is legal.

What the hell is this bejeweled idiot talking about?

Back to the hypothetical Cachuma Saddle checkpoint scenario. This would be like telling people they cannot park in the dirt along the paved road to Davy Brown and NIRA to access hiking trails or just to stare at a rock, as I’m apt to do, without first paying a day-use fee to PMC.

It’s absurd. And I refuse to be bullied and intimidated by ignorant people telling falsehoods under the color of authority while in hard pursuit of my money.

My money is my life. Each dollar represents an increment of my life, my time spent working and worked away, which I will never get back. And I am not handing my life over to PMC stooges who have no legal authority whatsoever to force me to pay.

When I called the guy out on these, uh, mistruths, he stumbled and stuttered and then—yes, you guessed it—he changed the subject.

He then told me that I had entered into a recreation area back down the road when I passed Fremont Campground, the first campground along Paradise Road on the way to First Crossing.

I interrupted him again.

“Excuse me. The entire Los Padres National Forest and all designated wilderness areas are recreation areas,” I noted. “So you’re going to need stop a moment and define what exactly you have in mind because what you keep telling me doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Again he stumbled and stuttered, the eyes darting about in his skull. And again he had no reasonable answer.

The improved, fee required Day-Use Area at First Crossing. 

I took the reigns and continued.

“You’re with Parks Management Company, right?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“You operate under a Special-Use Permit granted by the US Forest Service, right? Yes, that’s correct. Thank you”

“And the permit grants you permission to run what?” I asked. “To manage improved or developed day-use areas and drive-up campgrounds and some trailheads,” I told them and pointed over to the large day-use, paved parking, picnic tables, BBQ grills and bathroom at First Crossing. “Like that over there. The permit does not grant you management of the entire forest, dude.”

The following is taken directly from the US Forest Service website:

The following recreation sites are included in the SUP with Parks Management Company:

Santa Barbara Ranger District: Fremont Campground, Los Prietos Campground, Paradise Campground, Sage Hill Group Campground, Upper Oso Campground, Falls Day Use Area, First Crossing Day Use Area, Live Oak Day Use Area, Lower Oso Day Use Area, Red Rock Day Use Area,  Sandstone Day Use Area, White Rock Day Use Area, and Red Rock Trailhead.

Those are the “recreation sites.” Santa Ynez River Road itself is not a recreation site. And nor is the verge or the numerous dirt pull-outs along the road.

I plodded on: “You have no authority to bar access to a public road or to demand payment to pass your checkpoint or to demand payment to park in a dirt pull-out,” I told him. 

The guy didn’t know what to do. He had been flying by the seat of his pants and making things up out of whole cloth the entire time and when called out and refuted at every turn he resorted to threats and accusations.

The guy then mentioned something about calling “sheriff Doug” because I was being “confrontational.”

This was comical.

That I was not buying this guy’s lies because I was far more informed and educated on the matter than he was; because of this I was “confrontational.”

I don’t think so, Cletus.

I had my three young children in the car. There was no confrontation, I assure you.

In fact, I’d turn it around on this guy and assert that he was being confrontational in his constant pressure and demands pushed with misinformation that I pay a fee which I am not legally obligated to pay. And then threatening me with the sheriff because I refused to be fleeced. That’s the confrontation!

We just wanted to park in the dirt and swim in a river that’s been there forever without need of any supposed “improvement.”

We did not want the so-called “improvements” peddled by PMC at a fee.

I had actually requested to speak with somebody of authority right at the get-go when the lady refused to let me pass without payment.

I wanted to speak with a sheriff. I have before. And it went well. Then PMC could explain to a law enforcement officer why it is that they are barring access to public roads and lands under the color of authority.

How about that?! How about PMC be held to account and made to explain this outrageous behavior?!

I’d like to see Noozhawk publish a piece detailing this long running problem.

How about it, Macfadyen?

Calochortus growing along the Santa Ynez River.

Then the manager in duty for PMC pulled up behind me and walked over. I had already turned my engine off several minutes before he arrived.

The pale, fuzzy-faced man of short stature kindly identified himself as the manager on duty and asked how he could help me.

“Howdy. Great. You tell me,” I said.

It’s on PMC to explain itself not me to explain myself.

And you know what happened?

Within 60 seconds the manager told me to my face, eye to eye, that if I was going to park in a dirt pull-out along the paved road that there would be no charge for that.

“Uh,” I exclaimed with a puff of wind in exasperation, raising my hand, palm upward, looking at the lady in the booth I first dealt with.

I said to her: “Is not that exactly what I first told you when I pulled up? Yes. It is. That is exactly what I told you. And him,” I pointed to the guy with the ring through his lip. “I told you that, too.”

“And he accused me of being confrontational,” I told the manager. “And he threatened to call the sheriff on me,” I said. “What’s up with that? This is outrageous!”

“I’m perfectly calm,” I said. “Calmer than you are.” Nobody laughed.

The manager attempted to change the course of the discussion not liking my tack. I’d just rhetorically hanged these people with their own rope, and they knew it, and the manager clearly just wanted to settle the matter rather than hear me continue to point out how outrageously out of line his employees had been acting. He reached out and tried to hand me a day-use pass. “Here be my guest for the day,” he said.

“What?!,” I said, rejecting the offer with extreme prejudice.

“No!”

“No. No. No. That’s not right. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. That I’m your guest and how fortunate for me that you’re allowing me to pass into my public land,” I said.

“I just want to go swim. Can I go swim now? Are you all done with me? Is the interrogation over? Is there some secret password I can utter next time I come through so I can avoid all of this nonsense,” I asked, and slowly drove off.

What good reason is there that I should have to pay a $10 day-use fee to park in the dirt along a public road so my kids can swim in the river? 

On Memorial Day Monday I returned. The same lady was working the checkpoint.

“Remember me?” I asked. This time I had my wife along, too, as with our three kids.

“I thought you looked familiar,” she replied.

“Has anything changed,” I asked?

She stammered, not understanding my point.

“I’m still allowed to drive the road and park without payment to your company, right?”

Her guarded reply: “As of today, I will let you pass.”

Can you believe this ****?

“Whoa, wait a minute. What do you mean as of today? You’ll let me pass? That’s not right. You are obligated to allow me to pass because that’s the law,” I insisted.

“I’ll let you pass today because as of now there is some disagreement on the matter between the sheriff and the Forest Service,” she said.

In point of fact, there has been “disagreement” on this matter for decades. This is nothing new and long predates PMC’s arrival on the scene.

She’s going to let me pass because she doesn’t have any legal authority not to. That’s the truth of the matter. How big of her, of PMC.

Well, my interpretation of what the lady told me is that yes, indeed, I am correct in my arguments and the sheriff agrees with my position on the matter.

Because if the sheriff did not agree with me, then, presumably, PMC would stand on the law enforcement’s official line of opposition to my argument and insist that I, that we the people, must pay and PMC would not allow any free access.

This is why the manager of PMC let me pass without payment. And that is why the lady did so again on Monday.

Because they know they have no legal authority to charge day-use fees for driving Santa Ynez River Road or parking in the dirt.

And they know that the sheriff will not back them in claiming that authority.

This is why other private corporations that previously managed this area under a Special-Use Permit prior to PMC also always acquiesced, always, eventually, with enough argument at the checkpoint, and allowed me to pass without payment so long as I was not using the improved day-use sites or paved parking lots.

When I use developed day-use sites to picnic or BBQ I pay the fee.

But we the people do not have to pay Parks Management Company anything to drive Santa Ynez River Road or park in the dirt. So don’t.

Santa Ynez River

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29 Responses to Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket Continues

  1. Andy says:

    Massively infuriating. Who can I hassle about this?

    And what happens if you simply don’t stop at the kiosk? Or stop at the sign and then proceed without interaction?

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Hey Andy. Always stop. Even though it looks make-shift and hokey it’s a legit, real stop as per the sheriff.

      • andykeck says:

        Thanks for that clarification. Any thoughts on what happens if I come to a complete stop and simply proceed once I’ve done so? No interaction at all?

      • Jack Elliott says:

        I don’t know about that. Many years ago long before PMC I routinely went at it with one particular lady. She always threatened me with the rangers or sheriff and she’d take my license plate number down. Eventually I just cut right to it when I first pulled up and after stopping and a short conversation I’d tell her I was driving on and to tell the ranger to come talk to me, take my license number if she wanted. Nothing ever came of it. But she hassled me every time.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Jack. You note this “disagreement” has gone on for decades. Why hasn’t Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris or Lois Capps ( now Salud Carbajal) ever straightened it out and made our rights explicit with the management companies and the Forest Service. Seems a simple letter from Dianne and it would be fixed. I think I know the answer. It because this shake-down brings in money and then they all just look the other way. Sorry to be jaded but there is no way they do not know about a decades long dis-agreement baring access to federal land and public roads in heavily used recreation area. I would love to see statistics on usage since they began the adventure pass ( another unjust fee) and now this fee. I am willing to bet the usage is down significantly.

  3. Frank says:

    Its great that you stood your ground, but what an incredible hassle. The former concessionaire accepted the adventure pass, another sore point I know, but as a geezer my federal parks Pass was valid. A friend routinely just drove through the checkpoint saying he wasn’t using any improved sites. Too bad the Forest Service is compelled by reduced funding to adopt such odious solutions

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Yep. The Forest Service is in an impossible position trying to fulfill their work on a shoestring budget with minimal staff.

      • rangerdon says:

        The USFS is not without blame. They have gone through 30 years of hiring on bases other than qualifications so no longer have the top talent needed to oppose this crap. Why isn’t the USFS doing what some other agencies do – speak with friendly and trustworthy members of the legislature rather than hassling the visitor (and I have been hassled for raising this issue about other USFS campgrounds by USFS employees.)

  4. Jerome Rovnak says:

    Information That Has TEETH = Thanks for Taking the Issue to The Facts . Privet Interest want Control over Public Access – ” $ ” ” ? ” Are They Legally Lying ? Walk Softly and Carry A Camera .

    On Sat, Jun 1, 2019 at 9:56 AM Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure wrote:

    > Jack Elliott posted: “Santa Ynez River “The writer’s duty to speak the > truth—especially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the > powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the > sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the ” >

  5. We’re used to it here – we’ve got whole valleys in our ‘Lake District’ you can’t park in without paying. Recently, we went to the Yorkshire East Coast and couldn’t find anywhere at all to park in the whole area without paying!

  6. Nico says:

    Thanks for continuing to fight the good fight and keep others informed of their rights.

  7. rangerdon says:

    Jack – I think it’s time to meet, develop a strategy, and take the initiative. In your experience alone – and in mine – I can see a whole range of articles and lawsuits – for one thing why do taxpayers pay to build facilities which are then turned over to private corporations for profit? And shouldn’t the employees of those companies be required to follow strict USFS knowledge and courtesy standards? Why should those running our public facilities be the equivalent of Walmart rejects? Why should they be allowed to modify public facilities (I have at least one photo of such modifications)? They say fee money is used for public benefit – I can show photo evidence that it ain’t so at Arroyo Seco Campground west of Greenfield. Etc, etc, etc. But it’s time for action. Kitty Benzar is doing a good job, but it would be nice to have a west coast version or branch of her group.

    One simple demand from such a group – EVERY privatized public facility should be required to have a LARGE sign educating the public about the fact that the concessionaire has been allowed to profit from public lands. And there should be another LARGE sign posted adjacent to that first sign which specifies by law which part is privatized – ie, in your case, “This road is public as are the dirt pullouts and all the remainder of the forest lands. NO FEE MAY BE CHARGED TO PASS ON THIS ROAD OR PARK IN DIRT AREAS. IF THIS CONCESSION EMPLOYEE INSISTS YOU MUST PAY A FEE, PLEASE CALL THE LOCAL SHERIFF AT THIS NUMBER…. I’m thinking informative signs like those in all access roads to fee sites would go a long way to controlling the issue. You might add a third sign, stating the USFS budget, the USFS budget for that given forest, and compairng it to, say, the obscene war/military budgets of today. THAT would get some pressure on those in Congress.

    I met one Presidential Candidate last month, and spoke with DC rep of another, Neither had any idea of the tiny NPS budget.

    As a strategy to achieve this, I’d plan a group visit to your privatized contact station, with video cameras, and members of the press. And a story in, say, several public lands-friendly magazines and media outlets. NOT PBS News or CBS of TIME; Orion, Greenpeace, Mariah, Backpacker, etc, etc. Or write a small book that gets the issue to campers. Or start a new magazine for family tent campers.

  8. Kitty Benzar says:

    Everyone interested in this issue should read the articles written for the residents of Big Sur by James MacFarlane about the abuses that Parks Management is committing there. They are posted at
    https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19B0M9m-zLbcAb6qp5Vux-K4za96LSsIS

    The USFS is utterly negligent in continuing to work with this concessionaire that is not meeting its contractual obligations and abusing the public in the process.

  9. Jim Ansley says:

    Jack, quite a column this week. Didn’t know you were into social justice also. Very interesting. I’m still trying to get you to come to Chatsworth. We are off the Santa Susana Pass. There is color and plants like I have never seen in the pass. This history goes back to the Chumash Indians era. and live oaks acorns as a staple . we are due for a fire again. Some rare plants are currently in bloom and won’t last long. We are also full of history at the ranch as well. There is fodder here for multiple columns. Please contact me.

  10. James Ansley says:

    Jack, please contact me. Wild Flowers in the Santa Susana Pass are at an all time high. I really would like you to see it. It is rare. Not to mention the history of the area going back to the Chumash Indians. The ranch itself is historical as well. Your column today is brilliant .

    Best regards

  11. thank you! not many folks these days willing to stand up to horse shit like this! i’m so tired of all the fees, and wanna be fees, and licenses and licensees and the privatized nightmare of everything in america. all the kids should be swimming in our beautiful rivers, i’m glad you take yours, mine have grown up doing so too! thanks again for putting them in their place and doing it well…

  12. Claudia says:

    It is outrageous…they have their little kiosk and sign and pretend you need to pay to enter. About 15 years ago my bf got into a serious discussion with the gatekeepers about this. We finally pulled out our American Eagle Park Pass which gave us free passage anyway…pissed the guy off that we questioned his authority even when we had a. free pass. It is just so wrong that most people are intimidated by these bullies. Down at Nira I park outside the campground…never had any problems, but they don’t have a gatekeeper there.

  13. Thank you for posting this Jack

  14. David Cumes says:

    Couldn’t agree more but what to do about it Not to mention all the locals who used to do it forever and now have been displaced One young woman when I asked her said she was from Oregon

    On Sat, Jun 1, 2019 at 9:57 AM Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure wrote:

    > Jack Elliott posted: “Santa Ynez River “The writer’s duty to speak the > truth—especially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the > powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the > sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the ” >

  15. Reece M says:

    You are absolutely right! That’s ridiculous. Out right extortion.

  16. John Hankins says:

    Noozhawk AND the Condor Call. Would love to have a (much) shorter version of this, but June/July issue is already out; how about for the Aug/Sept issue? Deadline would be July 20-22. Let me know if you can do it, but if you can’t, perhaps I can follow up and quote you. condor john

    So appreciate all you are doing writing your column. I have saved everyone of them!

    On Sat, Jun 1, 2019 at 9:57 AM Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure wrote:

    > Jack Elliott posted: “Santa Ynez River “The writer’s duty to speak the > truth—especially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the > powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the > sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the ” >

  17. Dan McCaslin says:

    Agree, Jack, and I’ve done much the same thing at the First Crossing kiosk a number of times: stop, smile, just drive on and blow them off. There’s a somewhat similar issue at Davy Brown Camp and Parks Mgt. Co. where folks reserve sites online, then usually fail to show up but the site has a “reserved” sign on it with a date. I’ve complained about this in my Noozhawk column from last July: https://www.noozhawk.com/article/dan_mccaslin_upper_manzana_to_rays_camp_20180724

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