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Santa Clarita's Offroad Enforcement Team Celebrates 12 Years

 The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station's Offroad Vehicle Enforcement Team does more than just ticket wayward all-terrain vehicles and punish motoring scofflaws, said Sgt. Ron Olfert, who leads the unit locally.

Created in 2001 in response to hundreds of complaints annually of illegal off-highway vehicle activity, the team is made up of three sergeants and eight deputies who have extensive off-road riding experience and have undergone a rigorous 80-hour training program approved by the state of California. The team utilizes 10 dual-purpose motorcycles which are street legal but also quick and agile off road, Olfert said Friday. 

 "Basically, our mission is to enforce off highway vehicle laws and to repsond to complaints -- but, beyond that, people will see us out on the bike paths sometimes in Canyon Country, (investigating reports when) people are drinking alcohol on the bike paths or people hanging out in these areas and smoking marijuana," said Sgt. Ron Olfert. "And we target that because we can get in and out of those areas very easily."


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 The mission for Olfert's team is far from an easy one -- they are often tasked with the exploration of the nook-and-cranny territory for more than 600 square miles of land -- everything from National Forest Service lands near Gorman to undeveloped tracts of land west of Santa Clarita's borders. 

Recently celebrating more tan a decade of enforcement, Olfert said right now is pretty much the group's busiest time of year.

"Between October and March or April, the weather's cooler and we get some rain so it's not as dusty," he said. "I have gotten several complaints (recently) of motorcycle riding -- there's an area in Sand Canyon, kind of behind MacMillan Ranch -- that now falls in city boundaries. It's illegal to ride back there because it's private property."

Olfert said his team encounters a lot of misconceptions about the laws, and there's still a lot of misunderstanding out there as far as what constitutes legal riding.

"People need to know, anywhere they look around the SCV, it's either private property or protected (public lands) and it's illegal to ride unless they have permission from the owners," he said.

"Probably, the most frequent violation we cite for is vehicle trespsassing," he said. 

He said the team rarely gives warnings because the fine is aout $40 -- not enough to bankrupt anyone, but enough to send a message that the rider shouldn't try it again.

However, more dangerous infractions, such as riding without a spark arrester, may result in a fine of up to $1,000, because the violation creates a major fire hazard in the Santa Clarita Valley, and it's illegal in all circumstances unless the person is taking part in a sanctioned race event.

There are a few areas nearby where off-road vehicle riding is encouraged, Drinkwater Flats, Rowher Flats and the Hungry Valley State Recreation Area -- but nearly every other place you can see from city limits is illegal, unless the riding is on private property with the owner's express permission, he said. 

There have been measurable results due to the team's efforts, Olfert said, adding that his team used to go out and patrol and cite 15-20 people every time out -- citing approximately 500 people per year -- a figure he's happy to report has gone down dramatically. 

"It's illegal to ride an off-road vehicle on the road," Olfert said, "but it's kind of been a culture we've had to work on changing because people have been doing it for years."