KETTLEMAN CITY — It was 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the business district of Kettleman City, and there were United Parcel Service trucks everywhere. In one 10-minute stretch, there were at least 22 trailers and 22 trucks counted.
It was a sprawling transfer site, with drivers from Los Angeles and the Bay Area switching trailers, turning around and heading for home.
Except there is no UPS transfer station in the business district of Kettleman City.
The “transfer site” is public streets used by travelers getting off Interstate 5 and Highway 41 to access business such as In-N-Out, Denny’s, Chevron and Taco Bell. UPS trucks and trailers clog available street parking. They add to street wear and tear.
UPS doesn’t pay a dime in impact fees or road taxes. They use the street, they make their exchanges and they’re on their way.
Bob Lewis, president of the Kettleman City Chamber of Commerce, is angry about it.
He’s complained before.
In 2008, Lewis said a UPS official came to a chamber meeting after being invited to discuss the issue. Lewis asked him why UPS didn’t establish a legitimate truck transfer station, like FedEx did down the road.
“They weren’t interested in anything that would incur expense to them, is I believe the way he said it,” Lewis said. “I let him know in a very firm way that I didn’t appreciate his attitude. … We even offered them a property to build it on and made suggestions to them.”
UPS spokesman Dan McMackin said the company did respond by moving some exchanges to sites north and south of Kettleman City. UPS also limited the amount of Kettleman City transfers to 26 a day, he said.
“Moving some of those exchanges out of there, that is being responsive,” McMackin said. “We’d be more than happy to come out and sit with Mr. Lewis to find ways to alleviate those impacts. At least in 2008, our feeling was, the [number of exchanges] certainly didn’t rise to the level of a ‘facility.’”
McMackin claimed that people at the 2008 meeting said they wanted UPS in the area.
Lewis denied that. He said only one local business — a towing service that sometimes fixes flats for UPS trucks — made such a positive statement.
“All [the UPS trucks] do is, they discourage our people that would come there,” Lewis said. “Every time they park on the street, they take up room for four cars.”
Lewis has more than one reason to be concerned. He’s involved in the construction of Bravo Farms on Bernard Street — the most heavily used parking site for UPS trucks.
With an expected opening in July, Bravo Farms will be Kettleman City’s first-ever visitor welcome center, with a gift shop, wine tasting, ice cream parlor, deli cafe and kids playground.
As workers busily hammered and pounded on the framework of the building, there was a long line of UPS trailers and trucks parked on the street in front. Lewis said he’s concerned that once Bravo opens, UPS will be a big problem.
Kings County Public Works Director Kevin McAlister has had other concerns with UPS activity. He’s been worried about fire lane access to all the gas stations, fast food restaurants and other businesses.
Two years ago, county workers painted curbs red to prohibit parking on certain sections. UPS has mostly followed the rules by not parking in those areas. But that just concentrates the trucks and trailers along the curbs that aren’t painted red.
UPS using public streets as a busy transfer station is technically not illegal, said Steven Schuh, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.
“FedEx used to do the same sort of thing,” Schuh said. “It’s kid of a Catch-22 because they’re not illegally parked.”
“FedEx may have completely different issues or completely different scenarios,” McMackin said. “They may has so many [trucks] there that it makes sense for them to build a building.”
“UPS has a legal right to do it,” McAlister said. “But what impression does that leave on the community? Do they want to be perceived as a good neighbor?”
Several businesses in Kettleman City recently signed a voluntary “good neighbor” pact to cut diesel truck idling in Kettleman City — a significant problem there because of the hundreds and hundreds of trucks that pass through daily, not to mention major transfer stations run by FedEx and Con-way Freight.
UPS is not included in the agreement.
Lewis contrasted the behavior of UPS with FedEx. He said he had the same conversation with a FedEx official that he had with the UPS official.
Not long after that, he said, negotiations started to build a major FedEx transfer station.
“I think FedEx was doing the same thing, but when it was brought to their attention that it was not the right thing to be doing and that they were misusing county facilities as well as creating a traffic problem, as well as [diesel] emissions problems, when it was brought to their attention, then they did something about it,” Lewis said.
UPS abides by strict emissions standards, according to McMackin.
Lewis pointed out that FedEx rebuilt 25th Avenue, the access road leading to their facility. The company paid impact fees for the increased truck traffic exiting and entering Highway 41.
Bravo Farms is also paying Caltrans impact fees for the increased highway traffic the welcome center is expected to bring, Lewis said.
Some cities and counties have adopted ordinances to prohibit just the kind of unofficial exchanges UPS is doing. Kings County has not done so.
“I know that for years it’s been an area of concern,” McAlister said. “It’s been an ongoing issue.”
Crafting such an ordinance could be complicated, McAlister said, because of all the other truck traffic coming through the area. Trucks from other companies park on the street. One trucking company, Lewis said, just has drivers switching cabs.
UPS could respond to the concerns by simply avoiding the Kettleman City area altogether, McMackin said.
McAlister doesn’t beat around the bush when offering his opinion about what UPS is currently doing.
“My professional opinion is that it is legal,” he said. “However, I don’t know that it’s the best practice for them to be involved in. What they’re doing certainly raises some concerns.”
“We want to be a good neighbor,” McMackin said.