Idyllwild is finally on the map as a snow visitor destination. And that is the good and bad news.
Last weekend, snow visitors overwhelmed the tiny mountain hamlet, long known as a peaceful alternative to the larger San Bernardino County mountain resorts of Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.
But for many residents, the visitors’ behavior tested their patience and shattered the peace. Law enforcement could not adequately respond to the number of illegally parked cars — cars that closed turnouts, turned major residential streets into dangerous one-lane roads and made it difficult to turn onto Highway 243 from adjacent streets.
Terri Kasinga, Caltrans District 8 public information officer, noted that Idyllwild is now facing the problems that San Bernardino County mountain communities have long faced. “There’s very little we can do about people who park their cars illegally,” she said. “CHP can ticket them, but they’ll pay the ticket and leave their car there. They’ll park wherever they want because for them it’s like paying for a ticket to Disneyland so their kids can play in the snow. We have dealt with this in the San Bernardino Mountains for many years. You don’t know how hard it can get until you go to Wrightwood.”
When asked why Caltrans doesn’t post signs in turnouts warning against parking illegally during snow emergencies, Kasinga noted, “We can’t post no-parking signs in turnouts; it’s a county ordinance issue. We don’t have the authority. The county would have to come up with an ordinance and that would have to be approved by Caltrans.” When asked specifically if there were no-parking signs on roads up to the San Bernardino County mountain snow resorts, Kasinga said there were, but noted there were no turnouts on those roads. “The no-parking signs were meant to keep motorists from parking on highway shoulders,” she said.
Kasinga explained that Caltrans’ job is to clear the roads and make them passable during snow emergencies. She noted enforcement of illegal parking is an issue the California Highway Patrol is tasked to perform.
But, noted CHP Public Information Officer Darren Meyer, “We don’t have the personnel when there are so many violators.” Meyer explained that CHP can issue citations and have cars towed that are illegally parked, but that is at officers’ discretion. He said officers are tasked to prioritize responses — first for injury collisions and other emergencies. “We had three officers on the Hill to deal with everything.” He said illegally parked vehicles — those extending into highways, pointed in the wrong direction and blocking traffic access and snow plows — could be cited. “Officers can also get on their public address and order the area or areas to be cleared,” he said.
Meyer said it would make sense to clear turnouts on the roads to Idyllwild since one of the purposes, during snow emergencies, is to give motorists a place to put chains on their vehicles. Meyer said he intends to bring the increased scope of the illegal parking issue to the attention of CHP commanders. “Commanders are aware of the traffic issues. We’re meeting to try to get more staffing. We’ll alert officers to be more vigilant to clear those turnouts,” he said.
Hemet Station Sgt. Robert Duckett noted, “This issue [illegal parking and trespassing after major snowfalls] is not isolated to your area. I have talked with my colleagues in the San Bernardino Mountains who encounter the same issues. The residents of Idyllwild always have the option of calling the sheriff’s office, Hemet station for trespassing issues; however, just as with CHP, all calls are prioritized as they get dispatched.
“I will forward this email [sent by the Town Crier to Duckett] to the deputies who work that area and request extra patrol when available. In the meantime, I would suggest the installation of private property and no trespassing signs. In addition to the signs, the installation of fence lines to identify private property is the best deterrent.”
The possibility of extra Hill staffing on snow weekends from both CHP and the sheriff’s department would be helpful. But for residents faced with visitors glutting residential streets and trespassing on private land, the possibility of extra patrol officers offered little immediate comfort. It is a matter of numbers — enforcers versus violators. And, at least on this past weekend, violators won.
Just before deadline, Duckett sent an email: “I talked with our patrol supervisors who have given instructions for the deputies assigned to that area to issue tickets when they are available.”