Heidi Hirvonen, senior

Mike Lavell is a gentle man, with a graying biker’s mustache and a Harley man’s sense of style, who fosters a hobby of collecting and tending to various breeds of cacti.  He is also Maria Carrillo High School’s Boo Radley: a character who MCHS seniors imagine lurking behind his window with a shotgun, waiting to pounce upon the students who trespass onto his property to vandalize the hill that towers over his third-generation bungalow.

A tradition begun by the graduating class of 2000, carving the graduation year of the current senior class into the privately-owned hill opposite MCHS has long irked Lavell, whose property extends about 34 acres and ends just below the traditionally vandalized section.  Students have long assumed that Lavell owns the hill, but it is in fact owned by Jason and Erin Woods of San Francisco, who were unavailable to comment but have called the school several times to complain about the vandalization.  However, Lavell’s home faces the hill, and though he has not complained about the situation himself, he expresses contempt for the tradition.

The most recent addition–the last digit to complete the number 2011–was carved at 5 a.m. by a dozen seniors on Sunday, Sept. 12. 

“I think it makes all of Rincon Valley look bad,” Lavell said.  “That hill is not a billboard.”

MCHS students, naturally, take a different stance on the issue.  “It’s our one chance to make our physical mark on the community,” said Senior Associated Student Body (ASB) President Becca Booker, who didn’t participate in the Sept. 12 vandalization, but is “all for” the school spirit that the tradition inspires.  

“It’s almost like a motivational statement to graduate,” said one anonymous senior who participated in the event.  Unfortunately for the MCHS senior class, the law is not concerned with school spirit and motivation.

“Both trespassing and vandalism are misdemeanor crimes,” said Officer Brooke Clark of the Santa Rosa Police Department.  If caught, students would likely be issued a citation and placed on juvenile probation.  

“Being caught would be especially worrisome to those over 18.  This could go on your criminal record forever,” Clark said.  The school might also be targeted, according to Clark, due to liability issues.  

Similarly, students “could get hurt really bad,” according to Lavell, who said the hill is steep and the climb is dangerous, especially at night when the vandalization usually takes place.  

But MCHS principal Rand Van Dyke believes that the administration’s neutral stance on the subject is for the best.  “In the area of school discipline, you have to be careful,” Van Dyke said.  “You can’t go outside the bounds of what you’re allowed to do.”  His plan is to steer clear of the issue unless it “clearly evokes a school disruption,” such as the harassment of a student, he said.  

Students, however, seem to interpret the administration’s lack of opinion on the subject to as leniency toward the tradition.  “I don’t think [the administration is] strongly against it,” Booker said.  “Otherwise they would have stopped it already.”

ASB advisor Lorraine Martinez understands what the tradition provides senior students.  “Even though I don’t endorse it, it seems like it’s a fun thing to do, even though I’m sure the owner isn’t happy about it,” she said.

Van Dyke suggests that seniors might find their sense of spirit by methods other than vandalization.  “In the seven years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen a real growth in Puma pride,” he said, something he describes as a positive outlet for school spirit and class pride. 

Students who believe that trespassing onto Lavell’s property is free of consequence shouldbe made aware of Lavell’s canine companion, Sobe.  “She chases kids up the property,” he said.  “She bites too.”