Caught in a trap
This will come back to haunt me. The Chico police have set up a speed trap at the corner of Second and Flume streets. I can see the trap from my office window: Two cops on Harley-Davidsons sitting on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of the intersection, next to the parking lot that is home to the Saturday Farmers’ Market. The motorcycle cops are hard to spot in the shadows cast by the street trees planted near the parking lot. Their presence is also obscured to eastbound drivers by the two blue Port-a-potties that sit just inside the parking lot. Here’s how the trap works: One cop points a handheld radar gun at the unsuspecting motorists. The other watches for lane violations—motorists heading east on Second must turn right when in the right lane before they cross Flume. When a speeder or lane violator drives through, the officer puts the radar into one of the bike’s sidesaddles, flips on his blue light, revs his engine, pulls off the sidewalk and into the intersection to pursue the offending motorist.
This is a bad intersection. Not a day goes by without the sounds of squealing tires, angry horn blasts and occasional shouts. But as I’m watching this, I start to wonder: Is this legal? Can these guys lawfully ride their motorcycles along the sidewalk and then park them there waiting for traffic scofflaws to speed past? It is my understanding that a law officer may violate traffic laws—run stop signs and red lights or drive on sidewalks or through yards or head the wrong way down a one-way street—only when pursuing suspected criminals. Technically these guys are not pursuing suspected criminals; they are waiting for people to break the law.
I called District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who told me I was correct on the pursuing suspected-criminals part. But, he pointed out, the legality of the speed trap depends on whether the city has an ordinance against riding motorcycles on the sidewalks. I told Ramsey I was pretty sure the city has a no-motorcycle-riding-on-the-sidewalks law. I know we have one to keep bicycles off the sidewalks. Then I called City Manager Tom Lando, just to make sure. When I explained the speed-trap set up, Lando groaned a bit and said he was going to call Police Chief Mike Efford. The next day Lando told me Efford had assured him the motorcycle cops were not hiding and were operating from a driveway, not the sidewalk. About an hour after my conversation with Lando, the speed-trap cops set up shop on the sidewalk again. Twenty minutes later, they folded up their kickstands, made a synchronized U-turn off the sidewalk and drove off down Flume. Lando, I later learned, had seen the set-up for himself and brought it to an end.
Last week I reported in my story about satirist Michael Moore's visit to Grass Valley that the local paper did not send a reporter to cover his talk. Not true, I’ve come to find out. The Union sent both a reporter and a photographer—they just didn’t make it to the impromptu press conference before the talk. My apologies to the Union.