Battle For The California Desert: Why Is The Government Driving Folks Off Their Land?
2011-09-03 0:00


The Antelope Valley is a vast patch of desert on the outskirts of Los Angeles County, and a segment of the few rugged individualists who live out there increasingly are finding themselves the targets of armed raids from local code enforcement agents, who’ve assembled into task forces called Nuisance Abatement Teams (NATs).

The plight of the Valley’s desert dwellers made regional headlines when county officials ordered the destruction of Phonehenge: a towering, colorful castle constructed out of telephone poles by retired phone technician Kim Fahey. Fahey was imprisoned and charged with several misdemeanors.

But Fahey is just one of many who’ve been targeted by the NATs, which were assembled at the request of County Supervisor Mike Antonovich in 2006. LA Weekly reporter Mars Melnicoff wrote an in-depth article in which she exposed the county’s tactic of badgering residents with minor, but costly, code violations until they face little choice but to vacate the land altogether.

"They’re picking on the the people who are the most defenseless and have the least resources," says Melnicoff. collaborated with Melnicoff to talk with some of the NAT’s targets, such as retired veteran Joey Gallo, who might face homelessness if he’s forced to leave his house, and local pastor Oscar Castaneda, who says he’s already given up the fight and is in the process of moving off the land he and his wife have lived on for 22 years. And, while Antonovich declined an interview, we did catch up with him at a public meeting in order to ask the big question at the center of all this: Why the sudden enforcement of these codes against people living in the middle of the desert, who seemingly are affecting no one?

Writer-Producers: Zach Weissmueller and Tim Cavanaugh. Associate Producer: Mars Melnicoff. Camera: Alex Manning and Weissmueller; edited by Weissmueller.


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