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Route 66 owner gears up for challenge

Sheriff’s captain concerned about occasional biker-gang presence

Posted: April 23, 2009 9:34 p.m.
Updated: April 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Randy Garcia (right) and Naomi Ramirez, both of Santa Clarita, near Garcia's 2001 Harley-Davidson Heritage Springer (foreground) Wednesday at Route 66 Classic Grill's bike night.

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Mongols and Vagos.

Not familiar with those two outlaw motorcycle gangs?

They’re at least two reasons local lawmen are concerned about the future of a local restaurant’s ability to host its weekly “bike night.”

For the better part of the past decade, Route 66 Classic Grill in Canyon Country has hosted a Wednesday bike night, drawing several hundred motorcyclists every week between April and October.

While a live band rocks out in the parking lot, cycle lovers admire one another’s bikes and quaff beer in George Thomas’ retro-themed eatery.

Most of those who show up are simply jeans and boots-wearing Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, while a small and steady number belong to violent biker gangs, with members who are wanted for everything from drug trafficking to murder, according to Capt. Anthony La Berge of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

On May 5, the Santa Clarita Planning Commission will make a decision on Thomas’ application for a five-year temporary use permit.

Approval of his request would allow him to continue holding the weekly bike night, in addition to car shows and fundraisers he holds throughout the year.

Because Thomas’ annual temporary use permit expired last December, he is not holding official bike nights at present, and he said Wednesday’s turnout of about 100 bikers was a fraction of the normal crowd.

Thomas said about 500 signatures gathered in support of his request were collected through a petition passed around the restaurant Wednesday.

But the area’s top cop has concerns about the bike nights.

In recent years, members of both the Vagos and Mongols have showed up at the restaurant, La Berge said. Most notably, last year a Mongol who is now a wanted fugitive threatened Thomas, he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice has labeled the Vagos and Mongols motorcycle clubs as gangs, with several hundred members throughout the West.

La Berge said he has relayed his concerns to city staff.

No major assaults or incidents have happened at Route 66, but La Berge said he’s concerned about what could happen if gang members continue to frequent the bike nights.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “All I can say is, ‘Here’s what’s happened in other places.’”

There is no vendetta against Route 66 or against law-abiding motorcyclists, La Berge said.

All Thomas wants, he said, is, “to run a good family business. We’re very proactive,” he said.

Thomas is a retired 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. He employs several gun-toting retired sheriff’s deputies — one of whom is a federal marshal — to provide security for the bike nights.

No weapons are allowed on the premises, and he said bikers are told not show up wearing their club insignia, or “colors.”

“I don’t want gangs here,” Thomas said. “(La Berge) is overreacting.

“I will do anything reasonably possible to assure the safety of not only the customers but the community,” he said.

Thomas said his business brings in more than $1.5 million annually, and about $250,000 comes from the bike nights.

In the lead-up to next month’s Planning Commission meeting, Assistant Planner Mike Ascione said city staff is working with Thomas and the Sheriff’s Department, “to see what can be done.”

“This is another issue where we are going to need to do a balancing act,” city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said. “This is (Thomas’) livelihood. We don’t want to hinder businesses ... especially during these economic times.”

Thomas is not the only one who stands to take a financial hit if the Planning Commission restricts how many bike nights he can host.

Tim Bossard owns Renegade Classics, a motorcycle gear shop located about 150 feet across the parking lot from Route 66.

Bossard said he and his wife chose the location based on the popularity of the bike nights. During the bike-night season, he said about 40 percent of his monthly income is due to the events.

“It’s too much of a hit to take if they take away bike night,” the former Robinsons-May executive said, and added a drastic change would likely drive him out if business. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

 

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