Monday, February 07, 2011

Some History of Parkway Illegal Camping III

Following up on Friday & Saturday’s post, here is another story from the Sacramento Bee, this one from 2005, which we posted on and wrote a letter to the editor at the time.

Sacramento Bee, The (CA) 2005-03-31

Cameron Jahn, Bee Staff Writer City

City, county look for ways to stop trashing of parkway: Attempts to stop camping by the homeless haven’t worked.

“Patrols and cleanups to battle illegal dumping by homeless campers in the American River Parkway have cost Sacramento County taxpayers at least $630,000 since 2001 - with little success to show for it.

“Stepped-up enforcement has not stopped illegal camping. Neither has the threat of jail time.

“Now, frustrated officials are searching for a new strategy to combat litter and homeless camps in one of the region's most prized stretches of open space.

“Officials from the city and the county of Sacramento will host a community meeting tonight to update the American River Parkway Plan, the first time the overarching land-use document has been touched since 1985.

“The revision aims to identify the community's top priorities for the parkway, with an eye toward making it safer, boosting public use and possibly developing more land along the 26-mile natural corridor that stretches from Folsom to downtown Sacramento.

“None of those improvements will take root, however, until illegal dumping and homeless camping are addressed, said Bob Slobe, a North Sacramento developer who wants to see the downtown portion of the parkway cleaned up to match its upper stretches.

"If you want to make this part of American River Parkway usable, you have to get rid of the illegal campers," said Slobe, whose family once owned 440 acres in what became the parkway. "It's a crime problem - it's illegal to camp in the American River Parkway."

“But those who work with the homeless ask, "Where do we put them?"

"People are going to be displaced from the parkway, and we need to have a place for them to go," said Jan Gallaway, the county's homeless services program manager.

“Sacramento County started cracking down on illegal camping in the parkway in 2001, hiring two new park rangers and outfitting them with a patrol truck for a total of $159,000 a year.

“Around the same time, a two-member team from the Sacramento Police Department stepped up its enforcement in the Discovery Park and Richards Boulevard area, arresting anyone caught camping along the riverbanks. The cost of those officers and their equipment was not immediately available.

“For the last two fiscal years, more than 700 citations for illegal camping have been issued countywide. With three months to go in the current fiscal year - including the busy summer months - 656 citations have been issued.

“Law enforcement officials now say a heavy-handed approach does not work with illegal campers.

"I don't think citations is the solution," said Will Safford, a county ranger assigned to the illegal camping detail north of downtown. "They need housing - that's what they need - and there's not enough of it in Sacramento."

“An estimated half of the homeless population suffers from mental illness, officials say, and the county is looking to Proposition 63 money - funds set aside for the mentally ill - for programs to address those needs.

“One idea to combat the illegal camping that is being pushed by homeless advocates and law enforcement officials is restitution, whereby anyone cited for a camping offense would be assigned to clean up trash and campsites along the riverbanks.

“The public defender's office opposes the plan.

"It's sort of like the fox guarding the henhouse," said Tommy Clinkenbeard, a defense attorney in the public defender's office. "You're asking homeless people to, one, work for the fox and, two, to destroy the means of survival for other homeless people."

“Unless the affordable housing issue is addressed, the parkway will stay a de facto tent city for the homeless, said Paula Lomazzi, a volunteer with the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee who once also was homeless.

"They've been chased out of downtown because it's a business district, and they are forced to sleep in this area that is more isolated from public view," she said.

“The county has adopted an affordable housing ordinance that's estimated to produce 300 units of housing per year for the homeless. The city and county are working on a 10-year plan to end homelessness, although the plan has no funding.

“Meanwhile, left behind in the parkway is an array of garbage: used syringes, broken shopping carts, soiled clothing, human waste, pornography and bike parts.

“Cleaning up that trash falls to county rangers, volunteers and minor crime offenders. Last year, work crews filled 33 Dumpsters with trash from the lower parkway, and that cost taxpayers $7,260 to dispose. That's roughly the same amount of trash generated by 51 families in a year, said Harold Duffey, the city's solid waste manager.

“The American River Parkway Foundation's annual cleanup day in September drew 900 people who cleaned up an estimated 61/2 tons of trash along the entire parkway.

“But the piles keep coming back. While some fishermen leave beer cans and some bikers toss off food wrappers, the majority of the parkway's trash comes from the homeless, officials say.

"It's mind-boggling how much stuff they bring in and never bring out," said Chief Ranger Dave Lydick. "This is a much bigger problem than we can solve."

“For parkway users such as Lea Brooks, the homeless population also presents a safety issue.

"I think it's a crime for people to be afraid to use their parkway," said Brooks, who rides the parkway to work downtown from her home in Rancho Cordova. "Let's face it: The homeless are vulnerable; they destroy the parkway; and it's a public health issue."