Andy Bowers, writing in Slate.com last week, brought up an interesting dilemma facing many California cities. Back in the 1980s, the Department of Motor Vehicles ruled that local communities could by ordinance “prohibit the use of a street by any commercial vehicle exceeding a maximum gross weight limit.” The exception would be certain service vehicles like Pacific Gas & Electric trucks and garbage haulers. The reason was to reduce the wear and tear on roads. The limit chosen by the cities that passed such ordinances is three tons, or 6,000 pounds. The deal is that, like the Americans who drive them, our vehicles have packed on a few pounds over the years, and now those ordinances don’t fit. Turns out many of today’s big-boy SUVs (as opposed to those smaller girlie-man models) such as the GMC Yukon, Toyota Land Cruiser, Lincoln Navigator, Range Rover and Chevy’s Suburban and Tahoe, weigh more than 6,000 pounds. Here’s what Chico’s municipal code says: “10.15.070 Trucks - Limitations upon routes. No person shall drive a vehicle exceeding a gross maximum weight of three tons upon any street not designated as a truck route, except that nothing in this section shall prohibit the operator of any such vehicle from having ingress and egress from a designated truck route when necessary for the purpose of making pickups or deliveries of goods, wares and merchandise from or to any building or structure located off of a truck route upon restricted street, or for the purpose of delivering materials to be used in the actual and bona fide repair, alteration, remodeling or construction of any building or structure upon such restricted streets when a building permit has been obtained for such building or structure.” The Chico truck routes include Broadway and Main, The Esplanade, Park Avenue, Dayton Road, East Avenue, Mangrove Avenue, Eaton Road, the Skyway, Highway 32 and Cohasset Road. Big SUVS are welcome to drive on them.
What this means is Assemblyman Rick Keene cannot legally drive his GMC Yukon to his house in east Chico after a long day of legislating in Sacramento. He can get real close, within about a block, but if he wants to follow the law, he has to hoof it the rest of the way. And all those soccer moms, blond ponytails flowing through the back of their baseball caps while they’re talking on cell phones lodged in the crooks of their necks and wheeling their hulking vehicles to the soccer fields are violating the law. (I don’t think child soccer players count as goods, wares or merchandise.) Imagine that. Assistant City Attorney Lori Barker says a violation of the muni code is finable up to $1,000. What a revenue resource for the city! Forget the parking meters. The city could make $100,000 in a week—heck, in a day if we had more traffic enforcement officers, which the city will easily be able to afford with the extra income. City Manager Tom Lando, however, groaned a bit when asked about the ordinance. “This wouldn’t be the first time somebody found in our code something we didn’t know about,” he said, adding the city will probably look to amend the code. That would take a simple majority vote by council. Brian Michelson of city Public Works told me roads are constructed to a higher standard these days and can take the heavier vehicles. That may be true, but with a higher standard, I would imagine, comes higher construction costs. And there is a school of thought that says roads degrade faster now because the depleted ozone layer allows more ultraviolet rays from the sun to strike the Earth’s surface. UV rays degrade asphalt. The ozone has been depleted, in part, by the combustion of carbon fuels, especially by these huge SUVs that burn so much more gasoline than their smaller counterparts. What will we raise the minimum to? If it’s 7,000 pounds, Hummers (8,600 pounds) will be outlawed, a good thing since they can’t fit into the downtown city parking spaces anyway and should be ticketed appropriately. In the meantime, until the ordinance is changed, I guess we’ll continue to live in a town full of scofflaws. Maybe this will become a central campaign issue for the City Council races. Then again, maybe not.