Man and his mules should obey local rules

John C. Sears is accused of violating San Luis Obispo's camping ordinance.
John C. Sears is accused of violating San Luis Obispo's camping ordinance. The Tribune

"Mule" is an appropriate nickname for John C. Sears, the 66-year-old who has been trekking up and down California with his mules for years, occasionally running afoul of authorities for minor violations such as illegal camping — then stubbornly insisting he's above the law.

We agree there is something deeply satisfying in knowing there's room for an iconoclast like Mule in 21st century California. But Sears doesn't have to violate local ordinances or, in some cases, put his mules at risk of impoundment by animal control agencies.

Yet judging by his comments on Facebook, Sears seems to relish his string of run-ins with authorities. Last month, for example, he was cited by San Luis Obispo police for allegedly camping near the railroad tracks, in violation of a city ordinance. He's been accused of violating camping regulations in other communities, too.

And according to documents posted on his website — 3mules.com — he and his mules were taken into custody near Gilroy last year for walking alongside the shoulder of Highway 101, slowing traffic to a near standstill, then refusing to leave when contacted by the CHP. As for his local case, according to his Facebook posts Sears does not believe SLO's camping restrictions were meant to apply to him, but rather, were intended to deter those who use illegal drugs and alcohol, engage in violence and leave behind a mess.

Apparently, he believes his mules — and perhaps his free spirit — should provide him blanket immunity from prosecution. Plenty of others agree and we, too, initially thought the police's approach to be heavy-handed.

But wait a minute. If police were to look the other way for a man and his mules, what about someone passing through with horses ... or goats ... or a pack of dogs? And what of those who don't have animals at all, but simply want to camp quietly and peacefully, wherever they please? Are police to let all of them go — and save the citations for the drinkers and drug users?

If only it were that easy.

Bottom line: We don't like the idea of anyone being denied a place to sleep for the night, but it would appear that Sears — unlike others stuck living in illegal encampments — has options. He has a large network of supporters on Facebook, some of whom have offered hospitality to him and his mules, or as Sears often refers to them, his "ambassadors of the natural world."

We strongly urge Sears to accept those invitations. That way, he and his mules can happily stay out on the trail that they love — and out of the courtroom.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune