>> Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The biker community here in Southern California, for over a year now, has built a perception that the city of Temecula does not want them around.
Now, the city's Chief of Police is trying to change that.
Since that time, motorcyclists have posted messages on various Internet forums that the powers at be in Temecula are trying shoo all riders away from the city, particularly in its historic section known as "Old Town". Some motorcyclists even have gone on to call for a general boycott of Temecula, after being ticketed by local police for ticky-tacky violations ranging from non-DOT helmets, aftermarket exhaust, and not coming to a full and complete stop at intersections.
Jerry Williams, Temecula's Chief of Police explained to me in an interview today, that the ticketing is true, but the allegations that Temecula doesn't want bikers around is not.
"We want all motorcycle riders to know that they are welcome in Temecula", Williams said. "We WANT their business".
Williams went on to tell me that he specifically gave instructions to his police officers to "use more discretion", before pulling over and ticketing motorcycle riders. The word "discretion" is what he specifically used. He told me that he doesn't want bikers being pulled over for non-DOT helmets or aftermarket exhaust. He just wants to keep the peace, and go after the riders going out of their way to be excessively loud.
But he did admit that over the past several months, and perhaps even longer, that his police officers went overboard.
The story goes back a over a year ago when long time business owners within Old Town began complaining about loud noises coming from a variety of sources, including people playing their music too loud, barking dogs, and of course motorcycles. This was documented in a newspaper article dated July 25, 2007...
Up until then, the Old Town of Temecula was a quiet little weekend getaway where folks traveled to peruse the abundance of antiques, wines and cheeses. But during the housing boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the City of Temecula grew quickly, and Old Town found itself crowded with people. The local restaurants in Old Town became popular hang-outs for motorcyclists from as far away as San Diego, Orange County, and San Bernardino. Those owners of antique shops now complained over the excessive noise, and seemingly blamed the motorcycles.
The complaints started from one particular antique shop owner who I'm leaving nameless. He'd park his car along the main drag of Old Town, "Front Street". Everytime a loud motorcycle rode by, his car alarm would go off, and he'd have to reset it. Fed up, he started complaining to the city council about it, and managed to get a couple of other business owners to back him up.
The city council relayed the message to Jerry Williams, the Chief of Police. Williams then added some motor officers to patrol Old Town and cite bikers who appeared to be making excessive noise. Williams said that he instructed his officers to cite only those bikers who were going out of their way to make noise, show off, or deliberately pump their throttle to set off car alarms.
Originally, that's what the officers did. But over time, it got out of hand. The problem was that there was no oversight on these officers, and it turned into a feeding frenzy, like sharks smelling blood. Officers expanded things to where they pulled over bikers for wearing non-DOT helmets, even though they were riding quietly. Even if they were riding quietly, they got pulled over just for having aftermarket exhaust.
Many bikers don't necessarily put both feet on the ground when coming to a stop sign, but they still wait their turn, and still make sure they can enter the intersection safely. But yet, they were cited for not coming to a full and complete stop.
Eventually the biker-busting got worse. Local business owners described witnessing local police setting up something akin to a fishing net, where they would trap every motorcyclist within the main drag of Old Town, pull them over as a group, and cite them en masse for anything they could find.
I asked Williams if this actually happened and he said, "that doesn't surprise me at all". He went on to say that one day he was looking at the tickets that had been written and found that 60 motorcycles were ticketed for non-DOT helmets and aftermarket exhaust over three consecutive weekends.
Ken Rauton, the owner of Swing Inn Cafe, was one of the business owners who witnessed the "fishing net" activity and was concerned that it would eventually cause his business to suffer. His cafe is one of the popular destinations among motorcyclists. "It takes years to build up a trust among my clientele", Rauton told me in an interview. "But it takes only a weekend to destroy it all."
Bikers Are Not Welcome
After witnessing that "fishing net" style bust, one of the ticketed motorcyclist ended up walking into Rauton's cafe. Rauton noticed him and asked him what had happened. The biker showed him the ticket and explained it was for wearing a non-DOT helmet. The biker also told Rauton that the officer who wrote the ticket said, "Your kind aren't welcome in this town".
It was that blatant warning, issued from a city policeman, that sent Rauton on a mission to figure out how such a sentiment took root in Temecula.
He started talking to every business owner in Old Town, who eventually clued him in on that one antique shop owner who started the complaints. That owner has since regretted making that complaint, arguing that he only wanted police to get tough on the few bikers that were going overboard on making excessive noise. He never expected police to go on a feeding frenzy and conduct these "fishing net" style biker busts and ruin business for the restaurant owners. He has since talked to city council members, the Chief of Police, and the City Manager, to "ease up".
I asked Rauton if his Swing Inn Cafe has suffered a drop in business. He shook it off saying that it hasn't yet. However, he said he's worried that it eventually will if cops continue going crazy with their ticketing madness.
Rauton also found an ally in Ron Muir, the owner of Slap'N Leather, a biker accessories store also in Old Town. Muir opened his business only a year ago, seeing the area as a popular destination for motorcyclists. Muir claims the city's crack down on motorcyclists has made it tough for his business to grow. Since talking with Rauton, and that repentent antique shop owner, he too has addressed the city council with pleas to ease up on ticketing bikers.
But Muir wants to go even further, suggesting to the city council that Temecula organize an antique motorcycle show inside Old Town, to send a signal that the city wants bikers back. "I think an antique motorcycle show in Old Town will fix everything in one shot", says Muir. "We can erase the boycott just like that".
That boycott Muir eluded to is the one that several disgruntled bikers have called for on various Internet forums. Being that he's in the motorcycle business and rides frequently, Muir has heard other bikers express concerns about riding into Old Town to visit his store.
Here's an actual forum post on HDForums where a ticketed biker called for a boycott. Read all the responses to his boycott...
The person who wrote that post, "ElSexton" said that when Temecula police wrote him a ticket for aftermarket exhaust, they said they didn't want to do this to him, but that they were ordered to do so. Obviously, this came from the top.
And so that's what both Rauton and Muir did in response. They started by calling Jerry Williams, the Chief of Police. Then they called city council members, and they called the City Manager. Williams subsequently visited them both, and assured them that things would change, and that bikers would no longer be harrassed. But, Williams did say that his officers will still go after the few bad apples ruining it for everyone.
Bringing the Bikers Back
So it seems that the matter of Temecula police getting tough on motorcyclists may have come to a climax, and is now at a point of healing. After talking to Williams, I do feel convinced, at least he sounds very genuine about this. The question is if that genuineness passes down to the patrol officers.
Williams even went on to say that he's a Harley rider himself, and that his bike has aftermarket exhaust, and he even said to me that he believes in "Loud Pipes Save Lives". He said that his original instructions to go after the bikers who are going overboard wasn't interpreted correctly, and that he has now given new instructions to his officers to "use more discretion".
Now, both Rauton and Muir want to get the message out to motorcyclists everywhere that all the businesses in Old Town really do want the bikers there.
Williams actually told me that he's planning to find all the motorcycle forums and post messages there that the out-of-control ticketing will cease. Rauton himself has already started doing this..
Both Ken Rauton, and Ron Muir would love to hear from bikers on this matter...
Ken Rauton, Swing Inn Cafe
Ron Muir, Slap'N Leather
Even Williams says he'd like to talk to folks about putting this matter to rest...
Jerry Williams, Temecula Chief of Police