Joey vs. the Man

Photo by Keith May”Them,” according to the part-time blues musician/environmental activist, refers to the pro-development businessmen, city officials and state politicians who always seem to get their way in Huntington Beach. “Them,” Racano says, are the forces hell-bent on bulldozing .8 acres of coastal wetlands along Beach Boulevard near Pacific Coast Highway. Thanks to “them,” Racano claims, he was arrested on June 6 to thwart his one-man protest at the wetland.

Late that night, Racano was sleeping in the light-brown motor home he shares with his two dogs. It was parked on the street across from Plaza Almeria, a Main Street cluster of shops where Racano says he helps with security.

Racano says two Huntington Beach police officers rousted him awake, handcuffed him and took him to the station. His motor home was impounded, and his dogs were turned over to Racano's girlfriend. He was issued a citation at HQ for allegedly violating municipal code, which prohibits sleeping in a vehicle on a city street. After a night in jail, he was released. Racano says it cost him a few hundred dollars to get his motor home out of the impound lot.

Because it was a relatively minor infraction, Racano believes he should have been cited on the spot. Only a judge should have been able to give him jail time after a hearing. “They had no right to pass judgment,” Racano said of police. He also wondered why his vehicle had to be impounded.

Huntington Beach Police Sergeant Janet Perez said the unidentified officer who made the arrest told her he had received several complaints about Racano sleeping in his recreational vehicle. “People see an [unfamiliar] car parked and it makes them nervous,” said Perez. “The officer had received calls about him before and given him numerous warnings. The officer decided he needed to take action.”

Racano denied the officer had ever warned him about sleeping in his RV. “If he would have given me a warning, he would have said, 'Here's a ticket for sleeping in your vehicle.' He never did that. He just arrested me,” Racano said.

He also claimed that the “numerous” complaints against him for sleeping in his RV came from one local merchant with close ties to pro-development City Council members who gave their blessing to Robert Mayer Corp. of Newport Beach filling in the small wetland as part of a 230-townhome development.

Racano says that since April 13—the day he began standing on the other side of the fence from the wetland he dubbed “Little Shell” so the media and public would have a cute name to attach to a brackish marsh—police have slapped him with a ticket for a minor bicycle infraction and two citations for standing 18 inches from the curb.

“The fascism is coming out,” Racano said. “I think I'm getting to them, which is nice to know because I'm just getting warmed up.”

Perez said there was “no connection whatsoever” between Racano's arrest and his Little Shell protest. “He could have stood there all day as far as we're concerned,” she said.

She was unaware of the other recent citations Racano said he's received. “I'd have to see them,” Perez said.

Fortunately for Racano, he has also received wanted attention lately. The local media have swung by Little Shell (including the Weekly; see “Green With Anger,” April 21). He's entertained local environmentalists. Ecology-minded groups up and down the state have sent him money to get by while he stages his daily protests.

Meanwhile, thanks in part to the attention Racano has brought to the issue, a coalition of environmental groups filed suit on May 17 to reverse a California Coastal Commission decision that would allow Little Shell to be filled with dirt for future development. Little Shell is now being portrayed as a line in the sand when it comes to the fate of the few remaining coastal wetlands, including nearby Bolsa Chica. The commission's precedent-setting decision and a bill by Assemblywoman Denise Ducheny that's currently winding through Sacramento would make it easier for developers to build over saltwater marshes on the coast as long as they provide or restore other wetlands elsewhere. Besides effectively gutting the state's landmark Coastal Act, such a stand would obliterate the unique ecological functions of naturally occurring coastal wetlands, the groups maintain.

“I'm 100 percent confident we will win,” Racano said. “We've compromised the environment away. The time for compromise is over.”

As for “them,” Racano recommends they dig in for a long fight.

“They aren't used to running into an environmentalist who isn't a little hippie fag,” he said. “They run into me and it's, 'Fuck you, too, asshole.' They don't know how to handle me.”

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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