Trailers Continue To Encroach On Apple Valley Agricultural Property At Bootlegged Storage Yard

Significant numbers of 53-foot-long shipping containers continue to pour into an unpermitted storage operation that popped up in the unincorporated county agricultural area of Apple Valley after the owners of the property were told eleven weeks ago that they needed remove them.
While earlier public statements from county officials indicated enforcement of the county’s code would result in the situation being redressed, residents of the area, given the intensification of the problem at the site in question and the reticence of county officials in recent weeks to address the matter, say the property owners are being sheltered as a consequence of their political connections.
Starting in late December 2021, semi-trucks began delivering 53-foot-long shipping containers, all with Walmart logos, to a 4.9-acre property at 9233 Deep Creek Road between Round-Up Way and Rock Springs Road owned by Earl and Rhonda Graham, designated as Assessor’s Parcel Number 0438163430000.The Grahams are the owners of Graham’s Hay Sales, as well as the owners of I-15 Auctions, Bid Fast and Last Auctions, Standing Bar G Productions, and IG West. They advertise selling cattle and hay and are very active and well known in the equestrian community. They own an additional 23-acre parcel, designated as Assessor’s Parcel Number 0438163240000, behind the 4.9-acre spread. The 23-acre parcel is a site of natural soil, riding pens, animal stalls, and stored manure. Both of the properties are designated by the county as having SFR zoning, meaning they are intended for development as single-family residential subdivisions. Nevertheless, the property has historically been agricultural and the land along Deep Creek Road between Bear Valley Road and Rock Springs Road is one of the last agriculturally zoned areas in Apple Valley. Crops are still grown on many properties there.
All of the cargo containers have Walmart logos on the side. Upon arriving at the property, they are separated from the truck chassis by a crane and are stacked three or four high into a solid mass side by side resembling a large warehouse. The truck trailers come in five days a week, sometimes up to 10 per hour traveling down un-engineered Deep Creek Road, which at that point is a north-south truck route upon which rock/gravel trucks and Stater Bros trucks are normally the most common traffic. Vibrations can be felt on area properties when trucks come down the hill southbound near Tussing Ranch Road. One of the semis pulling a Walmart trailer took out a phone switch box at the site, and another jackknifed blocking Deep Creek Rd traffic for a couple hours. The trucks mostly arrive via Bear Valley Road east to Deep Creek south, and some come via Main Street and Rock Springs Road, making a left turn north onto Deep Creek and are obliged to back up in the intersection at Rock Springs to navigate under the railroad trestle bridge. On that treacherous stretch of Deep Creek Road since last June, there have been three fatal single car rollovers.
Accordingly, there are two objections to the illicit Graham truck storage facility, one being the incompatible and unpermitted use of the property and the other being the traffic hazard the constant flow of trucks on Deep Creek Road represents.
The Sentinel’s inquiries have determined that the containers being deposited at the site are essentially seasonal ones that are utilized by the Walmart corporation as it begins to gear up for the Christmas season to make deliveries of merchandise from warehouses to 4,756 Walmart stores operating in the United States at present. Immediately after Christmas, the use of large numbers of containers ends. In previous years, as currently, some of those containers, both on and off trailers, are kept at the Walmart warehouses and in some cases where feasible behind Walmart stores. The vast majority of them, however, were kept at trailer storage facilities in and around major transportation hubs across the United States. In Southern California, many of those facilities are located in the vicinity of Los Angeles/San Pedro/Long Beach near the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced supply chain crisis, loaded trailers and box cars around the country remained at a stasis wherever they were and backlogs accumulated in the parking lots of factories, warehouse and transportation nodes such as those at the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors. Often, upon the trailers or containers involved at last being unloaded, they remained onsite, empty, the semis that delivered and dropped them weeks or months previously having long since departed. Those empty trailers and containers have gradually and steadily been moved to the nearby and regional trailer storage facilities. In this way, Walmart was unable to leave its trailers and containers at those places in the Long Beach, San Pedro and greater Los Angeles area it had previously. One alternate spot Walmart found was an unheralded yard management company in Colton located at 101 E. Mission Street in east Colton located between the railroad tracks and the I-10 freeway near the Mt. Vernon off ramp that has served as a holding spot for trailers left at the Union Pacific Railroad’s East Colton Rail Yard about three miles away. Ultimately, space constraint issues manifested at the Colton facility and late last year Earl Graham agreed to take the overflow of Walmart trailers from the Colton storage facility.
In doing so, he initiated a bootleg operation. By January, complaints were registering with both the Town of Apple Valley, which does not have jurisdiction over that county area, and the county.
Graham had no permit for the trailer storage operation. Originally, Graham did not apply for a conditional use permit or land use application. When nearby landowners approached the county to inquire about the Grahams’ container storage operation, county officials said they were unaware of the activity on the property. At that point, local residents lodged a complaint with the county’s code enforcement division. On January 13, the county issued a notice of violation for improper use of land and the Grahams were given until February 13, 2022 to remove the containers.
In early February, roughly 340 trailers were stacked on the property. The importation of the storage containers did not cease, even after the complaint went to the county code enforcement division.
Graham did initiate an application for a zoning change on Assessor’s Parcel Number 0438163240000 – the 23-acre property – with San Bernardino County’s planning division within the land use services division for a proposed outdoor cargo/freight container storage yard, which is incongruent with any use within a wide radius of the property. Action on such an application requires processing and a public hearing. No public hearing has taken place and none is scheduled.
As February turned into March, the containers kept coming onto the Graham property. From beyond the property, it was observed that some of the trailers were being painted solid white, and it appeared that this was obscuring the Walmart logos. In mid-March, according to nearby landowners, the flow of trailers onto the property ceased and five dump trucks came to the property for roughly three days early in the lull during which the arrival of trailers had stopped, picking up mounds of manure and heading north with them, ultimately headed to the Kemper Campbell Ranch in Victorville where those loads were deposited. After removal of the manure, for the next week or so, earth was brought in by double trailers and considerable grading was done on the half of the 23-acre parcel that did not have containers yet stacked on it. Though county regulations require a permit on any operations in which more than 100 yards of material is removed, there is no such record of any such permit having been issued.
The placement of the containers onto the property has resumed. In recent weeks, neither county code enforcement, county land use services nor First District Supervisor Paul Cook, whose supervisorial jurisdiction includes all of the Victor Valley, will address why Graham has been allowed to not only continue warehousing the trailers earlier brought onto his property, but increase their number. Cooks’ office staff at various times has blurred the distinction between a zone change and conditional use permit when discussing what is either lacking, called for or in the works with regard to the Grahams’ property, while indicating that behind the scenes at the county an effort to “carve out” an exception to the land use limitations in the Deep Creek Road district is being sought to permit container storage to take place on the Grahams’ property.
While it is difficult to get an exact count of the number of trailers on the Graham property, from a distance it appears that well over 1,000 of them are there now. One report is that the total number of trailers there has eclipsed 2,000.
Some have suggested that Graham’s political connections might explain the favorable treatment he is being allotted.
The Grahams have been, as a couple or by means of their businesses, active sponsors of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Rodeo Fundraiser in Devore for decades.
Al Vogler, a High Desert landowner. told the Sentinel, “In my opinion, the owner of the property must be involved in political protection and funding of some sort for the use of his property at the ire of his neighbors. Information that we have requested from the First District office is not forthcoming and emails that we have sent after first meeting with staff there are not being answered.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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