Woodlake weighs in on vehicle code

By Reggie Ellis

For more than 20 years former farmlaborers Rafael and Rosalina Rodriguez of Woodlake have made a living buying items wholesale and reselling them at swap meets.

The business has been good to the Spanish speaking couple and helped them put three of their children through college. For the last 10 years the Rodriguezes have loaded up an old bread truck, those boxy delivery trucks similar to UPS, and traveled from Bakersfield to Modesto selling everything from produce to hair clips. The humble Hispanic couple has never been in trouble with the police, until late last year.

"He's never had so much as a traffic ticket," said Rodriguez' daughter, Carolina Rudisel.

On Dec. 19, the couple received a notice from the Woodlake Police Department that their 1973 Ford bread truck violated the city's municipal code section pertaining to abandoned vehicles. The law states that any abandoned, wrecked, dismantled or inoperative vehicles constitute a public nuisance and must be removed from sight. The only problem is that the vehicle did not meet any of the criteria.

"It's an ugly vehicle but that's not a crime," Rudisel said.

Following two more notices on Jan. 13 and March 2, the vehicle was towed. "This vehicle is part of my father's livelihood," wrote Rodriguez's son, Rick, in an April 4 letter addressed to Woodlake Police Chief John Zapalac. "If it would help, my father is willing to park this vehicle in his back yard and increase the height of his fence so that this vehicle remains out of public sight."

Zapalac said the notices were in response to several complaints from neighbors who said it was an eyesore. The truck was always loaded with items and was rarely moved except a maybe a few times a year. Rick said in the letter that the vehicle often did not move until the summer, "when sales usually increase."

But another law may encompass any heavy duty vehicle parked in a non-industrial area. At its June 27 meeting, the Woodlake City Council introduced Ordinance 557 which lowers the vehicle code weight restrictions on large trucks in residential areas from 6,000 pounds capacity to 5,000 pounds tare weight, or the weight of the vehicle without anything else such as cargo, passengers or utility boxes. According to his DMV records, Rodriguez's truck weighs 5,580 pounds, well over the limit.

"It's like they are being harassed," Rudisel said. "Why are they being singled out?"

While the ordinance was adopted in 1999, Zapalac said Woodlake is just now beginning to enforce vehicle abatement and weight. He said the reason for weight restrictions is to protect the infrastructure in the area. Large trucks that parked in one place often fracture water pipes underneath the ground, tear up roads and crack sidewalks and driveways.

"The guys who park their [semi-trucks] at home have cracks all over the road and sidewalk," Zapalac said. "The council wanted to make an effort to beautify the city. We aren't trying to single anyone out. This is a city-wide enforcement issue."

Al Valero, of Valero Bros. Towing, voiced concerns at the council meeting that under the new law he may not be able to park his tow truck at home. Under the current law no vehicle over 6,000 pounds of capacity may be parked in a residential area. That would mean any large truck, delivery truck, tow truck, semi-truck or large industrial truck would be prohibited in residential areas except for loading and unloading. The law also excludes recreational vehicles, such as mobile homes and camp trailers.

"We aren't out to get anyone," Zapalac said. "Everyone has 10 days to ask for an extension after receiving the first notice. We are always going to give an extension. As a last resort, we will tow it if we have to."

Rick said his father is not currently in violation of either the abandonment or weight restriction traffic codes. There are abandoned vehicles around town that haven't been moved in months or years. Rick said once his father's vehicle did not meet the requirements, the city found another law to throw at his father. "Currently his vehicle is under the weight, but now they are going to change it so that his vehicle will be over the limit! I don't understand why they are doing this."

Woodlake's new ordinance is standard and almost identical to other cities. Exeter's traffic code state's that "It is unlawful to park or cause to be parked any commercial vehicle with an unladen weight of 5,000 lbs. on any street or alley in the city for any continuous period exceeding two hours" except in industrial areas or for unloading and loading in any other area.

In Lindsay, the municipal code similarly states, "No person shall park any commercial vehicle having an unladen weight exceeding 5,000 lbs. in any residential district except" for unloading and loading or "when a vehicle is parked in connection with, or in aid of, the performance of a service, or on a property in the block in which such vehicle is parked."

In Farmersville, the weight restrictions are even less: "It is unlawful to leave, park, cause or allow to be parked any commercial vehicle of more than two tons [$4,000 lbs.] capacity commonly described as a truck, truck and trailer, trailer or tractor whether attended or unattended on any public street, highway or dedicated alley or other public right-of-way within the city except in front of those commercial properties fronting on Visalia Road and Farmersville Boulevard [the city's industrial district]."

For now, Rodriguez has begun parking his bread truck outside the city limits and is considering selling it for something he can park at his home. "It's terrible that he has to do this when he has done nothing wrong," Rudisel said. "It was never about the weight before. I just don't understand."

The city council has yet to set a date for the public hearing regarding the weight restriction, but it should happen sometime this month. Anyone wondering the weight of their vehicle should check their DMV registration.

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