Monday, February 28, 2011

Illegal Campers Move Near Camp Pollack

Bob Slobe reports on Saturday February 26th that a large (50-60) group of tents has been set up near Camp Pollack, and he saw a large continent of cars pulled into the space underneath the 12th street freeway overpass handing out food to campers.

With the clear position taken by the County Supervisor for that area, Phil Serna, in an article in the Sacramento Bee Wednesday February 23rd, we would expect further efforts to remove this new encampment and help those who wish to be helped, will begin shortly.

An excerpt from the article by Supervisor Serna.

“Over the past several days, sheriff's work crews have been out collecting trash and dealing with improvised latrines in an effort to restore that stretch of the parkway to as clean an environment as possible. Thankfully, American River Parkway Foundation volunteers have also agreed to do a cleanup along the lower stretch early next month.

“Finally, there are the occupants of the illegal camps. They are living in extremely substandard, unhealthy conditions, subject to the wet and cold of winter. I saw this firsthand when I went to visit parkway campsites during the recent biennial homeless count. Many of those I spoke with agreed that camping along the banks of the Sacramento River is miserable. In one camp I spoke with a shivering 24-year-old woman, five months pregnant with what will be her fourth child. That experience and lasting image more than any other compelled me to pick up the phone and begin fundraising.

“In the days before illegal campers were given notice to vacate the parkway because of the impacts they cause, every effort was made to provide shelter alternatives. This was the compassionate thing to do, and the effort involved more than just one elected official. Sacramento's business and development community contributed more than $40,000 to extend the Winter Sanctuary program through March, and additional space was made available through a generous contribution by the Salvation Army. These groups deserve our thanks, and I'm happy to report that there are a number of people – not just one person – who accepted the offer of help.

“Unfortunately, there are others who refused in order to capitalize on media attention to advance an agenda. As an elected public servant I am obligated to think and act more comprehensively than to react to one group's repeated demands for attention. I am obligated to serve the entire community – parkway users, the environment, and, yes, the less fortunate.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Riding on the Parkway

This article from the Sacramento Bee about bike riding on the Parkway trail thankfully notes the danger (final paragraph of post) of riding in the Lower Reach—between Discovery Park and Cal Expo—whole also noting the beauty of the experience when it is safe.

An excerpt.

“Riding a bicycle is something nearly everyone can appreciate, whether you're heading out for a slow cruise with friends and family or throwing your leg over a tricked-out road racing bike for some serious training miles.

“The one gathering spot that illustrates this more than anywhere else is the American River Parkway trail, the amazing stretch of pavement from Discovery Park downtown all the way to Folsom Lake – hugging the river most of the way and offering all kinds of brushes with wildlife for 32-plus miles.

“We rode the trail on Sunday, with a couple of additional jaunts along the route, for nearly 70 miles round trip and a modest 1,300 feet of climbing without ever encountering a car.

“For this installment of "Great Rides," we're going to point out the ways folks can take advantage of the trail, whether you want a short ride with plenty of stops to take in the natural beauty or a long ride that will burn a few thousand calories and get you ready for the coming century rides, touring or even racing.

“Something in between? The parkway trail can accommodate that, too. Often, a 10- or 15-mile ride at a brisk pace is all you need to work those legs muscles, break a sweat and get the heart pumping.

“One quick word of caution: There is a time and place for everything, and riding at high speed on a crowded trail is not only inconsiderate, it's dangerous. On Sunday, I saw a couple of large groups of would-be racers exercising poor judgment in doing this. There are quiet, remote stretches of the trail where picking up the pace is reasonable, but doing so in crowded areas will make you unpopular in a hurry.

“Speaking of crowds, February has given us the first hints of spring, with a pleasant stretch of warm, sunny weather. The days are getting longer, and many of you will start to have a hankering for a good bike ride.

“This is the place. Our bike trail also attracts runners, hikers, bird enthusiasts, sightseers, picnickers and folks walking dogs. In many cases, visitors to the trail are all of those things at one time or another.

“This natural stretch of land through an otherwise urban area makes our parkway perhaps the greatest bike trail in North America. Many already appreciate it, though many more have yet to give it a try.

“In recent years, when the world's top pros came to town early for the start of the Amgen Tour of California, they did their training on the bike trail – with local cyclists gawking or following along.

“For our long ride this time, we did the entire length of the trail up to Beals Point, taking a couple of detours for some hill training – one a half-mile steep climb up Pennsylvania Avenue in Fair Oaks and the other a two-mile loop through Folsom Lake Estates, where one hill measured a very steep 16 percent incline. Both of these extras can be tackled once or multiple times.

“The only serious climbing on the trail itself is in the Folsom area, with a nice climb near Old Folsom and another on the final stretch up to Folsom Lake.

“For those looking for a gentle introduction to the bike trail, there are several entry points to the parkway.

“There are many ways to enjoy a cruise of about 10 miles in an hour, with stops to take in views of the river and wildlife. Using our map, find a convenient entrance and pick out a suitable distance. If you want to pull off for lunch or coffee, the best places to do this are in midtown, east Sacramento, Carmichael and Old Folsom.

“Beginning at Discovery Park, for instance, you can head up the trail toward the suburbs. Near mile 3.5, you may spot, as I did Monday morning, about a dozen wild turkeys along the levee. This is the start of mating season and the males had their feathers puffed out looking to attract mates. If you mimic a turkey call, they will often answer back (don't ask how I know this). In a another month or two, we'll be treated to lines of baby turkeys following their mothers as they cross the trail.

“It's worth noting that the lower section of the trail has been in the news lately because large groups of transients have set up nearby camps, only to be chased off by park rangers. Many trail users feel uneasy, even unsafe, in this area. I ride in this area on a regular basis and would argue that the best way to make it feel safer is to encourage more people of goodwill to use the trail. If you look around and see other cyclists and runners, you'll be at ease. If you feel isolated, it may be frightening.”

Friday, February 25, 2011

Suburbs Still Rule

The latest census is showing that to be the case (which is no surprise as that is where most people prefer to live given the choice) as this article from New Geography notes.

An excerpt.

“Metropolitan area results are beginning to trickle in from the 2010 census. They reveal that, at least for the major metropolitan areas so far, there is little evidence to support the often repeated claim by think tanks and the media that people are moving from suburbs to the historical core municipalities. This was effectively brought to light in a detailed analysis of Chicago metropolitan area results by New Geography’s Aaron Renn. This article analyzes data available for the eight metropolitan areas with more than 1 million population for which data had been released by February 20.

“Summary: Summarized, the results are as follows. A detailed analysis of the individual metropolitan areas follows (Table 1).
• In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the preponderance of growth between 2000 and 2010 was in the suburbs, as has been the case for decades. This has occurred even though two events – the energy price spike in mid-decade and the mortgage meltdown – were widely held to have changed this trajectory. On average, 4 percent of the growth was in the historical core municipalities, and 96 percent of the growth was in the suburbs (Figure 1).
• In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the suburbs grew at a rate substantially greater than that of the core municipality. The core municipalities had an average growth from 2000 to 2010 of 3.2 percent. Suburban growth was 21.7 percent, nearly 7 times as great. Overall, the number of people added to the suburbs was 14 times that added to the core municipalities.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Parkway Illegal Campers

An excellent article in the Sacramento Press with a comments section also well worth the read.

An excerpt.

“Park rangers will be citing campers on the American River Parkway Thursday after a 48-hour notice ordering the homeless population to stop illegal camping expires, weather permitting.

“We have to enforce the law,” said Zeke Holst, Sacramento County Regional Parks spokesman. The notice was posted Tuesday at around 11 a.m. “It’s illegal to camp in the parkway, and it’s our job to enforce the law.”

“If it is raining heavily, Holst said rangers will hold off until a clear day.

“If it remains clear, Holst said rangers will approach campers in the parkway on Thursday and issue $115 citations to those who refuse to leave as well as confiscate and hold camping gear and other belongings.

“Campers who comply will be able to take their belongings with them, Holst said.

“When property is confiscated, the owners will be able to recover it free of charge by following directions on a receipt they will be given, said Steve Flannery, chief ranger.

“Belongings can be recovered quickly, he added.

“We want to give their property back to them, because there’s a good chance they need (it) right away,” Flannery said.

“Camping has been taking place for quite some time in the parkway, Holst said, but he added that there is currently a large group of more than 60 people camping together.

“There is certainly a sanitation concern because of the waste and the associated garbage and trash that accumulates there,” he said.

“That garbage accumulation, along with other issues including damage to trees and safety concerns, had outraged advocates for the American River Parkway, as detailed here.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homelessness & the Parkway

This is an excellent, balanced, and appropriate article in the Sacramento Bee today by a member of the County Board of Supervisors, the agency with ultimate responsibility for managing the American River Parkway.

It should bring a measure of hope to the long suffering communities adjacent to the Lower Reach—Discovery Park to Cal Expo—who have been unable to safely access their part of the Parkway for many years.

An excerpt.

“Much has been reported in recent days regarding the situation along the lower reach of the American River Parkway. Unfortunately, there's been a predictable attempt by some to hijack public attention to narrowly advocate their cause instead of acknowledging the complexities of the situation.

“Dealing with those complexities and seeking solutions is the responsibility of your local elected officials. As one of them, I've made every effort during the past three weeks to thoughtfully and compassionately address the issue of illegal camping, public safety, environmental impact and homelessness. Admittedly, it is not an easy thing to do 50 days into the job.

“Parkway users deserve a safe, clean environment free from harassment or other personal threat. They should not feel compelled to avoid the parkway for fear of their own safety, which is what a number of constituents have conveyed to my office in recent weeks. They deserve better; we all deserve better.

“The American River Parkway offers one of the best recreational opportunities anywhere in the country, but it will be enjoyed only if it is safe. To that end, local law enforcement, including Sacramento County park rangers, have established added presence along the lower reach of the parkway to enhance public safety and to encourage parkway users to return.

“Let's also remember that the parkway itself is a "constituent" here. Illegal camping has produced tons of trash and debris, some of which is hazardous biological waste. Illegal campgrounds, large and small, "self-governed" or not, contribute to this problem. Along the American River Parkway, refuse has collected in makeshift dumps, and what doesn't remain in these derelict collection sites oftentimes is spread by the wind, is scavenged by animals or ends up pooled along the riverbanks.

“And at the risk of making readers cringe, we should not forget that human beings produce waste that without appropriate sanitation facilities can spread disease and even end up in our river system – the same system used for swimming, boating, fishing and drinking water.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

California Greening

There is a great article by George Gilder in The American Spectator, about California’s green woes, and a whole lot more.

An excerpt.

“CALIFORNIA'S TREASURER BILL LOCKYER has a bridge he wants to sell you. No, he is not putting the Golden Gate on the market. That would actually find buyers. He is trying to foist a "bridge loan" on the country that in effect would require us to buy the entire state.

“Shuffling off the streets of Sacramento into the bond market a few weeks ago seeking to raise some $14 billion in so-called "revenue anticipation notes," Lockyer is offering notes that can be repaid only by future revenue anticipation notes, in a delusional statewide recycling binge of bonds on bonds.

“Since the state at the same time officially projected $20 billion annual deficits for the next six years (Governor elect Jerry Brown says $28 billion in 2011), the end of this road is another of those bridges to nowhere that politicians believe stimulate an economy but ordinary people prefer not to drive on or off. So now Lockyer is following up with a drive to get the federal government to guarantee California's debt against default, which means the taxpayers will have to be the ulti-mate buyers.

“Before we close the deal to purchase the state, however, ordinary financial due diligence would require Congress to make California rescind a "poison pill" provision in its state laws. This poison pill is not medical marijuana. But it renders any bridge loan or "revenue anticipation note" utterly hallucinogenic.

“Unrecognized by most media, conservatives lost miserably in what may have been the most consequential election on November 2. This was the California referendum to repeal Assembly Bill 32, the so-called Global Warming Solutions Act. Passed in 2006, AB 32 ordained that the state economy be ratcheted back to 1990 levels of so-called greenhouse gases by 2020, a 30 percent drop, and mandated an 80 percent drop by 2050. Together with an unsustainable $500 billion public pension overhang and $28 billion current budgetary shortfall, the effort to cap all energy production dooms the state to bankruptcy.

“Although conservative pundits have lavished disdain on this California political potlatch, California is the nation's most important state, dominant in the innovation, manufacturing, and enterprise that make the U.S. economically and militarily supreme in the world. Perhaps two-thirds of the nation's new technology originates in the state or is financed by its venture capitalists. California cannot go down the drain without inflicting serious damage on the rest of the country.

“THE IRONY IS THAT the general trend of advance in conventional "non-renewable" energy for a century -- from wood to coal to oil to natural gas and nuclear -- has already wrought at least a 60 percent drop in carbon emissions per watt. In the words of natural gas pioneer Robert Hefner, "As man travels down the energy path from solid wood and coal to liquid gasoline and to gaseous natural gas and hydrogen, the progression is one of carbon heavy to carbon light; from complex chemical structure to simple; from toxic particulate emissions to no particulate emissions; and finally, from high CO2 emissions to no CO2 emissions." Thus the long-term California targets might well be achieved globally in the normal course of technology advance. Unlike the existing bonfires of ingenuity and money, moreover, an organic advance of energy efficiencies can readily propagate around the world without mandates and subsidies.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

The issue here, as virtually every paragraph in the Sacramento Bee story today and the associated comments make clear, is illegal camping by the homeless in the American River Parkway, but the Bee insists on entitling it “Breaking Sacramento's homeless cycle”, and that is part of the problem in resolving the issue of illegal camping in the Parkway.

Public governmental and media leadership cannot seem to realize how important it is to protect one of the most valuable public recreational areas in the country by strictly enforcing the laws against illegal camping.

That is why it is crucial, if we are to save this most beautiful and historical part of the American River Parkway, that it be managed by a nonprofit organization which will enforce the law.

The structure of this form of management, which retains public ownership of the Parkway, is outlined in our strategy posted to our website.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“All last week, it was a cat and mouse game along the American River Parkway.

“Dozens of homeless men and women pitched colorful dome tents and claimed a right to live on land they dubbed Safe Ground, despite an ordinance that makes such encampments illegal.

“Homeowners and parkway users complained about trash, fires and drug abuse. Park rangers rousted the campers, but they resurfaced just a short distance away. Rangers moved in again, and the cycle continues, all in the glare of the media spotlight.

“From a 2009 feature on Oprah Winfrey's show to a cover story in the current issue of Harper's magazine, Sacramento has been cast as the face of the "new" homeless. But the issue has simmered for decades here, fueling anger, moral outrage and political debate.

“Should Sacramento get behind a Safe Ground where homeless people can live with basic services, free of police interference? If so, where should it be located? Does anyone have a better solution?

“The Bee asked eight people with personal stakes to offer their perspectives.

“Sacramento homeless: Ranger weary on constant rousting

“Steve Flannery, 58

“Sacramento County chief ranger

“Illegal campers have peppered the American River Parkway since the 1980s, when Sacramento County's chief ranger, Steve Flannery, estimates there were 60 people living in the four-mile downtown stretch.

“The rangers would cite the campers they encountered and send them on to their next nomadic destination.

"Keep them on the move," was the strategy, Flannery recalled. "The longer they stay in one place, the more environmental damage they do."

“But when the numbers began to ratchet up – with more incidents of cut branches, trampled vegetation and the scarred black rings of former campfires – two rangers took on the homeless full time beginning in 2002.

“There were days when the team would report not encountering a single camper between Discovery Park and Sacramento State, said Flannery.

“But a parched county budget halved the number of rangers from 22 in 2009 to 11 in 2010. The homeless detail was deemed gratuitous.

“Then came Safe Ground Sacramento, an organized group of homeless who turned a plot on the parkway into a campground housing as many as 150 people.

"We don't have an easy answer," said Flannery. "If we're going to have a mass eviction, there needs to be a place for them to go."

The Homeless in the Parkway

Considering that virtually all of the stories about the homeless over the past couple of weeks in the Sacramento Bee concerned the large scale illegal tent city in the American River Parkway, documented by the photos of Bob Slobe, and blogged on by us, the title of this article “Can we afford to keep rousting the homeless?” is analogous to articles reporting on crime along one city street and then seeing a Bee article entitled “Can we afford to keep arresting criminals?”

The only reason we as an organization have been compelled to study the homeless issue is because public leadership in government and media has allowed large-scale illegal camping to exist in the American River Parkway for the past ten years at least.

For us, and the people who live in the adjacent communities, the issue isn’t the homeless, but public safety in the Parkway, which is destroyed by the illegal camping by the homeless.

An excerpt.

“Safe Ground has become the focal point of Sacramento's heightened debate on homelessness. There are those who want to crack down on homeless camping anywhere and others who are more tolerant. They don't like the situation but given the fact that there is no place for the homeless to go they believe authorities should leave the campers alone. Safe Ground campers want a safe place somewhere in the city where they can live legally, a place where they can govern themselves and where, they pledge, drugs, alcohol and violence will not be tolerated.

“They are not proposing a tent city or shantytown. They envision sleeping cabins, ADA approved with room for dogs. The complex would have communal kitchens, showers and social services. They believe the proposal can be financed with private grants. They plan to ask local churches to sponsor the cabins.

“Safe Ground advocates have harangued the Sacramento City Council with their demands nearly every week, a tactic that has worn thin, frankly, and one that I suspect may be losing the group points with the public. But behind the scenes, the advocates are making progress. The city is working with them to find potential locations. A half-dozen or so have been selected. No one wants to identify them yet for fear of a backlash from residents….

“Safe Ground is more than a place to stay. It is a community. The people I met there are fragile, beaten down, some are slow-witted, others seriously mentally ill, some just months or weeks sober. They look homeless. Many are toothless, dirty and ragged. They need more than shelter. They need emotional support. The Safe Ground community provides that, a close-knit village of sorts, where they won't be shunned. When the rain stops and the sun shines they sit around picnic tables, cooking, sharing meals, talking, joking with each other, forging friendships – one of those miracle drugs that doesn't cost anything and has no dangerous side effects.

“But move beyond the Safe Ground orbit on the American River Parkway and you are literally in no-man's land. The woods behind Pollock Pines Boy Scout Camp are honeycombed with homeless campsites. Illegal drug use – heroin and methamphetamine are the drugs of choice, I was told – is rampant. So is alcoholism. Piles of trash are everywhere. So is human waste. These homeless men and women are either unwilling or unable to comply with the no drugs, no alcohol and no violence rules that apply at Safe Ground.

“Many are like Ogden Triplett, better known as Rocky, a 45-year-old ex-felon who told me he needs "his weed and alcohol to keep the pain away."

“Others are like 54-year-old Angel Burden, who lives on $846 a month from government disability payments. It's not enough to pay rent. She doesn't want to go into a shelter, she says, because they won't let her take her dogs, two Great Danes who reach to her waist.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Abiding by Laws

Sacramento is being asked, in this article in the Sacramento Bee—keeping in mind that one of the prerequisites of asking for help from a community is an acceptance to abide by community laws—to create a system of homeless housing on donated land, but they are violating the law by illegally camping in the Parkway, thereby invalidating their commitment to community standards of lawful behavior.

An excerpt.

“Over the last two years, since the Safe Ground Sacramento movement emerged out of the rubble of Sacramento's infamous tent city, much has been written about Safe Ground. Most of it suffers from the stereotypic misperceptions that all homeless persons are pathological, have little value as human beings and a prevalent misunderstanding of the Safe Ground objectives.

“Safe Ground is about people seeking to help themselves while trying to survive without many of the benefits of society and about providing Sacramento with a model solution that can be cost effectively repeated elsewhere. Safe Ground is not about living in tents on the American River Parkway. We are there only until we have other options.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Issue is Public Safety, Not Homelessness

What this Sacramento Bee editorial seems to not recognize, is that is doesn’t matter why people are illegally camping in the American River Parkway, or what their state of mind is or isn’t.

However, it does need to be taken into account when removing illegal campers and that is where having homeless service programs accompany police during sweeps to remove campers, which is part of the strategy we propose in our report on the issue, starting on page 25.

What ultimately matters, in speaking of illegal camping in the Parkway, is the level of public safety in the Parkway resulting from allowing it.

Allowing large scale illegal camping in the Parkway destroys public safety.

Determining the foundational reasons behind homelessness—an issue that has been part of human society from the beginning—are matters for the social scientists.

Providing public safety is a primary public responsibility of law enforcement and public leadership guiding their actions.

So, by all means, continue the eternal discussion of why there is homelessness, but please work—in the meantime—to provide public safety in the Parkway where illegal camping has been allowed to exist for at least the past ten years.

An excerpt.

“All of 'em are bums. They don't want anyone's help. They live down by the river by choice, not circumstance. The people who advocate for them are exploiting public sympathy.

“On and on, year after year, the serious problem of homeless people camping by the American River resurfaces. And time after time, the same tired myths and generalizations about the homeless also resurface, adding to the challenge of getting beyond the status quo.

“It is understandable why people are angry. People who bike or walk on the American River Parkway shouldn't have to feel threatened by illegal encampments and their occupants. Residents who live near the Highway 160 bridge over the American River shouldn't have to feel like their neighborhoods are sacrifice zones for problems that other neighborhoods wouldn't tolerate. People who care for the parkway and its habitat shouldn't have to pick up the trash left behind by illegal campers. Park rangers and police shouldn't have to confront, year after year, the unpleasant job of rousting the homeless.

“All of these groups deserve to be heard as the city and county once again attempt to make progress on the problem of illegal camping. Yet no one is served by those who, in arguing their points, make sweeping generalizations about homeless people or those advocating for Safe Ground – a legal encampment for the homeless.

“One of the most misleading observations is the oft-repeated claim that many of those camping along the river do so by choice. It is easy to jump to such a conclusion. When reporters interview illegal campers along the river, they often come back with quotes about the joys of sleeping under mistletoe and eating berries from the bush.

“Yet one needs to address this question: How many of these illegal campers are of sound mind? Isn't a sign of mental illness someone who would turn down a warm bed to sleep on the ground, week after week, during winter rains and cold?”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Environmentalism as Religion

A good article in The New Atlantis examines the phenomena, something we did in our 2006 report: The American River Parkway, Protecting its Integrity & Providing Water for the River Running Through It: A Report on the Auburn Dam Policy Environment, (pp. 19-31)

An excerpt from the New Atlantis article.

“Traditional religion is having a tough time in parts of the world. Majorities in most European countries have told Gallup pollsters in the last few years that religion does not “occupy an important place” in their lives. Across Europe, Judeo-Christian church attendance is down, as is adherence to religious prohibitions such as those against out-of-wedlock births. And while Americans remain, on average, much more devout than Europeans, there are demographic and regional pockets in this country that resemble Europe in their religious beliefs and practices.

“The rejection of traditional religion in these quarters has created a vacuum unlikely to go unfilled; human nature seems to demand a search for order and meaning, and nowadays there is no shortage of options on the menu of belief. Some searchers syncretize Judeo-Christian theology with Eastern or New Age spiritualism. Others seek through science the ultimate answers of our origins, or dream of high-tech transcendence by merging with machines — either approach depending not on rationalism alone but on a faith in the goodness of what rationalism can offer.

“For some individuals and societies, the role of religion seems increasingly to be filled by environmentalism. It has become “the religion of choice for urban atheists,” according to Michael Crichton, the late science fiction writer (and climate change skeptic). In a widely quoted 2003 speech, Crichton outlined the ways that environmentalism “remaps” Judeo-Christian beliefs:

“There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

“In parts of northern Europe, this new faith is now the mainstream. “Denmark and Sweden float along like small, content, durable dinghies of secular life, where most people are nonreligious and don’t worship Jesus or Vishnu, don’t revere sacred texts, don’t pray, and don’t give much credence to the essential dogmas of the world’s great faiths,” observes Phil Zuckerman in his 2008 book Society without God. Instead, he writes, these places have become “clean and green.” This new faith has very concrete policy implications; the countries where it has the most purchase tend also to have instituted policies that climate activists endorse. To better understand the future of climate policy, we must understand where “ecotheology” has come from and where it is likely to lead.

“From Theology to Ecotheology

“The German zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined the word “ecology” in the nineteenth century to describe the study of “all those complex mutual relationships” in nature that “Darwin has shown are the conditions of the struggle for existence.” Of course, mankind has been closely studying nature since the dawn of time. Stone Age religion aided mankind’s first ecological investigation of natural reality, serving as an essential guide for understanding and ordering the environment; it was through story and myth that prehistoric man interpreted the natural world and made sense of it. Survival required knowing how to relate to food species like bison and fish, dangerous predators like bears, and powerful geological forces like volcanoes — and the rise of agriculture required expertise in the seasonal cycles upon which the sustenance of civilization depends.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Truth is Out, Results Come In

1)Truth: Seconding what Bob Slobe has been saying for weeks, today's column by Marcos Breton clearly reveals the truth behind the Safe Ground movement.

An excerpt.

“They are intellectually dishonest. That's why I can't get behind homeless advocates in Sacramento who are very adept at gaining publicity for their cause of securing a homeless campground within the city limits.

“They call their movement "Safe Ground," but it's actually shaky ground. It's a campaign with a dubious objective built on a deception that has been exposed.

“Did you notice?

“Homeless people illegally camping along the American River Parkway got a lot of publicity recently when they were rightly told to leave by county park rangers.

“The homeless were then offered 32 extra beds at the Salvation Army shelter, thanks to a local politician and business leaders who raised a lot of money very quickly to fund the extra beds.

“But how many of the 200 or so Safe Ground campers took advantage of the shelter provided for them?


“Most of the others simply dug in, squatting with intent. And the media was there to record it because that's what Safe Ground wants.

“They want images and stories depicting the plight of the homeless so they can promote the fallacy that Sacramento has no heart.

"I think it's inhumane," Safe Ground executive director Steve Watters said in Tuesday's Bee.

"I blame the politicians for not finding solutions faster."

“Sorry, Steve, but I blame you and your colleagues. County Supervisor Phil Serna and business leaders did offer a solution – 32 beds are not nothing. Their effort was Christian and compassionate.

“Safe Ground spurned it because they aren't about getting people back on their feet.

“They want taxpayers to subsidize a campground where certain homeless people can live in tents because that's what they want.”

2)Results: Another Sacramento Bee story today reports on a new 48 hour deadline for moving out of the Parkway.

An excerpt.

“Members of Safe Ground Sacramento who are camping along the American River Parkway were given 48-hour notices again Tuesday to move on.

“The homeless people who are camping in the downtown stretch were given notices to move Feb. 9, then were swept out of their makeshift campsites Monday.

“But many scattered farther into the parkway, including 62 members of Safe Ground who pitched their tents again just a five-minute walk into a wooded ravine.

“Now the group, as well as others camping nearby, have until Thursday to leave the parkway altogether, said Steve Flannery, Sacramento County's chief park ranger.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Public Safety in the Parkway

The title of today’s article in the Sacramento Bee, Rangers roust Sacramento homeless -- yet again -- and admit it's not the answer, is correct in that the answer to homelessness eludes us, (and has for generations) but it is a large part of the answer to establishing public safety in the American River Parkway which is the concern of law enforcement, and let the political public leadership work on the other.

An excerpt.

“Most of the estimated 200 people illegally camping along the downtown Sacramento stretch of the American River simply picked up their tents and moved deeper into the underbrush.

“As county park rangers swept straggling campers from beneath oak and ash trees Monday – after 48-hour notices to vacate were issued five days earlier – a collective feeling of helplessness filled the wet sky.

"It's not the solution," park Ranger Supervisor John Havicon said of the decades-long practice of periodically rousting the homeless. "Ultimately, the city and county have to come up with a plan."

“Park rangers passed out plastic garbage bags and asked those living near the bike trail to move on as sheriff's work crews hauled out abandoned tents, twisted bits of metal, errant clothing and other detritus.

"The word is out we don't have any way to maintain the area and control the area," said Havicon, who is one of 11 county park rangers, down from 22. "Basically, we're just reactionary."

“The growing numbers of homeless people camping on the parkway between Highway 160 and a nearby train trestle, a short walk over the river to social service groups such as Loaves & Fishes, prompted complaints by nearby residents and cyclists who had to weave through the crowds on their morning commutes.

“County Supervisor Phil Serna raised more than $35,000 recently to secure 32 beds for 60 days at the Salvation Army and to keep a winter sanctuary program going through March. Nineteen of the 32 beds have been claimed.

“But just one of the 64 people living in the Safe Ground Sacramento camp – which comprises less than a third of those living in the vicinity – took up the Salvation Army. Another got a long-haul trucking job that came with media publicity.

“The remaining 62 simply set up another Safe Ground camp a short walk away….

“But no one seems to know what to do with those who call the parkway home.

“George Pulis, 60, who is not a Safe Ground member, transplanted his tent about 200 yards south Monday.

“He prefers the parkway – where he's lived for 20 years – to shelters because there aren't rules about when he comes and goes, he can drink two cans of the alcoholic Four Loko each day, and friends keep track of his medications for paranoid schizophrenia and depression, he said.

"I don't like this part of it, but it comes with the territory," he said as he moved his belongings.”

Letter On Homeless in Parkway Published

A letter from Bob Slobe was published in the Sacramento Bee today.

Here it is.

Get city's priorities straight

Re "Serna steps into breach on homeless" and "Kings must get back in the game on new arena" (Editorials, Feb. 10): As The Bee's editorial board opines for the millionth time on our arena fate, one wonders what it thinks about a "world-class city." Apparently the editorial board believes that a world-class city is more about arenas than about its "miserable place" rating, which is made worse by the fact that poor, working-class neighborhoods like North Sacramento bear the burden of homelessness.
Shame on them.

– Robert Slobe, Sacramento

Monday, February 14, 2011

Leader With Experience

As this column from Marcos Breton reveals, the background of Supervisor Phil Serna—who is playing a very helpful role in resolving illegal Parkway camping by the homeless—has given him close experience with the issue, from his seat on the board of Cottage Housing.

Experience is crucial to understanding this issue, as trying to understand it from a distance too often leads to a misguided form of compassion generally unhelpful to either the community or the homeless.

As with so many stubborn social issues involving individual behavior, this one calls for a foundation of tough love.

An excerpt.

“The issue of homelessness has dogged Sacramento for years because the wrong voices always lead the discussion into a wall of passive-aggressive resistance.

“Homeless advocates continually push the misguided idea of erecting a campground where homeless people would live in tents and sheds in a city where urban camping is otherwise illegal.

“Mayor Kevin Johnson has been an ally of the "Safe Ground" movement, but most other politicians privately recoil at the implications of such a place.

“Would you want a homeless campground next to your home? What's to stop such a place from becoming permanent? Who is liable if someone is stabbed or shot, or if drugs or alcohol are being abused there?

“The issue always bogs down in these details until the next homeless crisis, which emerged last week when homeless people were told to disperse from the American River Parkway after camping illegally and trashing one of Sacramento's treasure spots.

“Fortunately, there is a new voice on the scene with a reasonable, compassionate alternative to letting people live in tents and sheds.

“Phil Serna is a brand-new county supervisor who has dedicated part of his life to helping homeless people.

“The son of Sacramento's beloved late mayor, Joe Serna, Phil Serna was on the board of Cottage Housing, which operates residential housing complexes where homeless people live under a roof and get back on their feet.

"It's a clean and sober environment, and there is testing to make sure of it," Serna said of Cottage Housing, which serves more than 500 people annually.

"Services are offered. People are assisted in clearing their warrants, in dealing with their disabilities, in getting their kids back," Serna said.

"In housing people in tents and Tuff Sheds, you can't convince me that is a genuine effort to change the circumstances of the individual."

“Those are the key words – changing the circumstances of the individual. Serna is for helping people who want to help themselves.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Homeless Camping In Parkway, Parts I & II

Part I

As a follow-up to the recent decision to remove the large, illegal homeless camp in the Parkway, this story from Thursday in the Sacramento Bee, sadly, reflects a sense of entitlement to occupy the illegal campground, which, again, sadly, local leadership has done little to discourage over the past decade.

It is illegal to camp in the American River Parkway, and allowing it has created a public safety crisis that precludes the adjacent community, and other users, from safely using their part of the Parkway.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento County Regional Parks rangers distributed notices Wednesday to homeless men and women living along the downtown stretch of the American River Parkway, giving them 48 hours to pick up and leave their campsites.

“The notice specified that the homeless were to vacate the Woodlake area along the north side of the American River, east of Highway 160, where tent clusters have long frustrated local residents.

“Personal property still in the area after the 48-hour period, which expires Friday afternoon, will be seized and those refusing to move will be cited, said ranger supervisor John Haricon.

“The notice also provides people a list of 12 area shelters and programs that may be able to help with the relocation. Rangers distributed notices to more than 100 tents, Haricon said.

“But members of Safe Ground Sacramento, a 64-resident encampment, argued that many of those shelters already have long waiting lists or criteria for admittance that some Safe Ground members don't meet.

“Residents of the Safe Ground encampment — the largest in the area, with about 55 tents – said they would stay put overnight and discuss their next move at a meeting this morning.

"We're not here to be a problem," said Paul Stevens, 52. "But on the other side, there's been no solution offered.”

Part II

As these stories in the Sacramento Bee report, unfortunately, the operating paradigm by public leadership is backwards—finding a place for the homeless to go—rather than providing a safe Parkway for the families who live in the adjacent homes.

While commending those in public leadership—Supervisor Phil Serna in particular—for taking a stand for public safety, we hope public safety will become the operational mantra for all public leaders with management control over the Parkway.

Traditionally, public safety is the primary function of public leadership.

As of today, the illegal campers have move from the large campground, but according to Bob Slobe, have not moved far, setting up a new village of 30 or so camps about a half mile up in a draw and built a privy there; and continuing for a mile or so upriver there are about 10 different sites composed of 3 to 4 camps each.

We remain hopeful that the proposed sweep this Monday is applied to all of the illegal campers in that part of the Parkway, for the sake of the families who have been waiting to safely recreate in the Parkway for many years now.

An excerpt.

“The 48-hour window given to homeless men and women to leave their campsites along the American River Parkway closed Friday afternoon with some campers moving elsewhere on the parkway, some staying put and a few checking in to local shelters.

“A notice distributed by Sacramento County park rangers Wednesday said campers risked citation and seizure of their property if they did not move from the area south of Woodlake, north of the American River and east of Highway 160.

“Rangers, however, did not return to the area Friday. An official sweep will be conducted Monday morning, said Sacramento County Chief Ranger Steve Flannery.

“Officials for Safe Ground Sacramento, the largest encampment on the parkway, asked to use the weekend to finish moving, Flannery said. Monday also was the earliest that a crew could be assembled to clean the area, he said.

“Meanwhile, rangers have been reminding campers that they must relocate by Monday.

"We will hopefully not have to ask anybody to leave their camp at that time," Flannery said. "We do want to get the area cleaned up."

“Multicolored tents could still be spotted along the parkway late Friday afternoon, although in lesser numbers.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

K Street Drama, Act 6000

Though in a recent post it appeared things were looking up—and time will tell on the mermaid/merman infusion—this new plan, as reported by Sacramento Press, appears to be another act in the ongoing drama.

An excerpt.

“D & S Development, Inc., and CFY Development Inc. – led by David Miry and his son, Bay Miry, and Cyrus Youssefi and his son, Ali Youssefi – are currently working with the city on plans to redevelop the south side of the 700 block of K Street.

“The developers propose a mix of adaptive reuse and new construction that would include a music club, four restaurants with bars and other retail, second-floor apartments, sidewalk patio seating, rooftop decks for dining and residential use, and a six-story apartment building on the alley.

“The developers also plan to restore historic brick and wood storefronts facing K Street.

“City staffers expect to bring the project back before the Preservation and Planning commissions and the City Council for final action in May and June. The developers hope to start construction in the fourth quarter of 2011 and open the completed development two and a half years from now.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Parks Management Innovations

We have called for the American River Parkway to be managed by a nonprofit, and we support the Ose Proposal for privatizing Gibson Ranch.

This article from the California Chamber proposes these types of strategies and other innovative ideas for the struggling California State Parks.

An excerpt.

“February 7, 2011) The prospect of California State Park closures is again in the news as the State of California deals with its continuing budget crisis. There are, however, private alternatives that should be considered before closing the parks.

“Increased public funding of the parks just isn’t an option. The failure of Proposition 21 last November made that clear. By soundly defeating the proposition, voters declared their opposition to increasing taxes to maintain state parks as they are today. Countless surveys and actual park use demonstrate that while Californians love their state parks, they also want them managed within available resources.

“The State of California has exhausted the governmental solutions to the dilemma. And so, California State Parks have no alternatives other than to close parks or find non-governmental funding solutions to sustain them.

“In the past, privately funded solutions have been dismissed out of hand. Today, however, no solution that would keep our state park system viable should be discarded. So, let’s consider these alternatives:

“Private Sector Alternatives

“• Close Some State Parks. As a park professional, it is difficult for me to even mouth the obvious, but some parks don’t belong in the state park system. Most of these are among the smallest of our parks and lack any semblance of statewide historical, natural, cultural, recreational or economic significance. They often were added in response to political influence, when funding was more available or when state government was on an acquisition spree.

“California needs an independent task force (similar to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission) to assess which parks should be retained and which should be buttoned up and maintained until times are better.

“The task force might also recommend which parks are likely candidates for adoption by non-profits, local park districts or other sympathetic entities that are able to operate and maintain them. Potential savings from this assessment could be substantial.

“• Private Management. Many parks could be packaged on a regional basis for private-sector management, while others have sufficient real or potential revenues to be managed on their own. Private enterprise has shown it can accrue operating savings on an average of 30 percent better than government while managing park facilities comparably.

“Under this scenario, supervision and protection (public safety, natural resource protection, etc.) of the parks would remain under the direction of a California State Parks superintendent. Depending upon need and appropriateness, functions like maintenance, janitorial, fee collection, interpretation, and limited and contracted security could be assumed by private contractors. These functions represent the lion’s share of the overall costs to keep parks open.

“There is significant precedent for this type of arrangement across the country. The savings (both human and financial) could be substantial and could support and manage more effectively parks still directly operated by the California State Parks.”

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Parkway Tent City to Be Removed

As reported by the Sacramento Bee, removal of the tent city is a very positive sign that public safety in the Parkway remains a central focus of public leadership, but as can be seen in the posts here, here, and here, of earlier Sacramento Bee articles from as far back as 2001, the issue remains a difficult one.

Sacramento has allowed the creation of a country-wide magnet for homeless—as one example, note the final paragraphs of the post—partially due to nice weather, but largely due to the easy access to domestic homeless services provided by the conglomeration of programs in the Richards Blvd/12th Street area within walking distance of the camping areas in the Parkway.

Based on strategies that have worked elsewhere, we proposed solutions in our 2005 report: The American River Parkway Lower Reach Area: A Corroded Crown Jewel, Restoring the Luster, (pages 25-42)

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“The sea of nylon tents and plastic tarps dotting the downtown stretch of the American River Parkway will be cleared out by Monday and the homeless men and women camping there forced to find shelter elsewhere, said Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.

“In the last week, Serna helped secure more than $35,000 worth of funding – mainly donations from business associations and corporations – so those affected will have places to go.

“There will be 32 beds at the Salvation Army opened up for 60 days, and the winter sanctuary program, in which churches and other houses of worship provide shelter and meals, will be funded through March 31, Serna said.

"I knew there were two ways we could do this. We could move people with little notice and without any regard for their personal circumstances, or we could think carefully about how to maximize options for them and do it humanely," Serna said.

“Park rangers from Sacramento County will pass out fliers today informing campers – including those settled in the 55-tent, 64-resident and four-dog encampment Safe Ground Sacramento – that sheriff's work crews will move in to clean up next week.

“Residents in North Sacramento have long complained about the camps that have materialized among the oak and ash trees, mainly along the north side of the American River between Highway 160 and the train trestle.

“Bicycle commuters also have voiced concerns about the streaming crowds of homeless clogging the bike trail in the mornings as they head across the foot bridge for social services….

“But indoors isn't where Tim Buckley wants to end up.

“Buckley, 58, grew up in Massachusetts and traded in his 45 potted plants, 600 records and 1,200 books last year when his jobs as a newspaper delivery route trainer and home health care worker dried up, he said.

“He took a train to Sacramento and spent a couple of nights in a shelter before turning outside.

“He carries a scrub brush in the pocket of his denim jacket so he can do laundry in the river, takes waste from the communal porta-potty at Safe Ground to Loaves & Fishes daily, and gets around on a heavy-duty mountain bike he calls his '56 Buick.

"It's very beautiful out here; it's a wondrous place," he said. "There's mistletoe in the trees and delicious boysenberries down yonder."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

ARPPS Letter Published

In the Sacramento Bee Sunday, February 6, 2011, and here is our post on the day of the editorial.

Address parkway safety – now

Re "Big surprise: Blight returns to river" (Editorial, Jan 30):

The underlying premise in this editorial regarding illegal camping in the lower reach of the American River Parkway is: Like it or not, the health of the American River Parkway and homelessness are inextricably tied.

If that means that our local homelessness issues need to be resolved before the public safety issue in the parkway is resolved, that is wrong.

Public safety in the parkway is a single, local issue that needs to be resolved – as are all public safety issues – immediately.

– David H. Lukenbill, Sacramento, senior policy director, American River Parkway Preservation Society

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."

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Some History of Parkway Illegal Camping II

Following up on yesterday’s post, here is another story from the Sacramento Bee, this one from 2002.

“The Sacramento Bee 2002-03-18
Mary Lynne Vellinga, Bee Staff Writer

Problems on the Parkway, Capital targets homeless camps

“As it passes through North Sacramento, the American River Parkway becomes a riparian jungle where dirt paths hug the river and wind through a thick cover of oak trees, wild grape vines and elderberry thickets.

“It's a potential paradise for hikers, horseback riders and picnicking families. But the absence of such people is striking.

“A closer look inside the thickets finds many of them full of trash, old clothes, bicycle parts, sleeping bags and human excrement. Over the past two decades, this portion of the taxpayer-owned parkway has been claimed by another population: the homeless.

"Rarely do I see a (non-homeless) citizen out here, which is kind of a sad state of affairs," park ranger Tim McElheney said last week as he supervised a sheriff's work detail cleaning up garbage in the lower parkway.

“McElheney keeps a map dotted with all the camps he has identified along the river in the past few years. In some areas, the river is lined with a nearly solid mass of dots. Last summer, he said, there were 80 campsites in just one four-acre area.

“Sacramento County, which owns the parkway, has struggled for years with the politically explosive issue of homeless campers. Officials don't want to appear insensitive. At the same time, they are barraged with complaints about illegal dumping and camping along the parkway, often touted as Sacramento's most valuable recreational resource.

"The pendulum sort of swings back and forth in terms of what kinds of actions we're supposed to be taking against this homeless population," said Dave Lydick, a county parks department manager.

“At the moment, the pendulum has swung toward enforcement of the ban on parkway camping. In the past few weeks, the county permanently assigned two veteran rangers, McElheney and Will Safford, to patrol the stretch of the parkway east of Discovery Park and west of Cal Expo, which has the greatest concentration of homeless camps.

“County Supervisor Roger Dickinson has directed county parks staff to come up with ideas for attracting more recreational users to this end of the parkway - some drinking fountains, for instance, or picnic tables.

"We clearly have a circumstance in the lower parkway where people don't necessarily feel safe or welcome," Dickinson said.

“Homeless campers and some of their advocates say the county should just leave them alone, especially given Sacramento's acute shortage of homeless shelter beds.

“Sacramento County spends $22 million a year on services for the homeless. But the Sacramento County and Cities Board on Homelessness has concluded the region needs to build shelter for 1,600 more people over the next five years.

“The lower parkway "is being used - for people's lives," said Garry Cox, a Presbyterian minister who serves as liaison to the river campers for Loaves & Fishes, the 12th Street charity that provides services for Sacramento's homeless population.

“Cox once brought a Christmas tree out to a camp. He said he has stayed overnight on the river a half dozen times in an effort to get to know the campers better.

“Bill McManus, who has camped along the river for 17 years, said he considers the parkway his home.

"This ranger told me the other day, 'You're on my river,' " McManus said. "I said, 'I've been here for 17 years. How can it be yours?' "

“McManus, who travels with three German shepherd mix dogs and one husky mix, maintains the parkway is safe despite the large homeless population.

"We're no different than any other community," McManus said. "If you look in the paper, you'll see a lot more rapes and murders (in the outside community) than you do down here."

“Lea Brooks, chairwoman of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, has a different perspective. She commutes through the parkway every day from downtown to her home in Gold River.

"I avoid stopping at least until I get to the H Street bridge, because I always assume that there's somebody hiding in the bushes or living in the bushes," she said.

“Once, a man tried to throw a large stick into the spokes of her bike as she passed. In another incident, Brooks' husband was sprayed with mace or a similar substance by someone standing along the path.

"I've had groups of people blocking the bike bridge in the past," Brooks said. "I've had groups of men having parties in the middle of the bridge. I've had people literally passed out."

“Advocates for the homeless acknowledge the parkway population includes people who are there for reasons other than lack of shelter beds: Some are mentally ill, others want to stay with a boyfriend or girlfriend or are using drugs or alcohol. And some just don't like being around a big group of people.

“Jim Gravely, 41, said he's been camping along the parkway for six years. He said he doesn't go to homeless shelters. "I don't like to be governed, and you've got to deal with all those other groups," said Gravely, who was playing horseshoes at Loaves & Fishes one afternoon last week.

“Several other campers declined to talk. Cox, the Loaves & Fishes liaison, said they are upset and frightened by the February murder of Ken Massie, a popular homeless man who camped under Highway 160. Massie and a companion were shot by a masked gunman as they bedded down. Cox said campers viewed the incident as sign of rising hostility toward the homeless.

“But those who advocate clearing the camps from the parkway say the shooting illustrates how dangerous the area is for the campers themselves.

"We have this thing the county refers to as a national jewel; it's a cesspool, it's unsafe," complained Bob Slobe, a North Sacramento businessman whose family sold the North Sacramento parkway land to the county in the mid-1980s for about $2 million.

“Slobe has made it a crusade to get the county to crack down. He views the current effort as inadequate.

“Almost every day, Slobe heads out from his office on Slobe Avenue in North Sacramento, near Costco and the Radisson Hotel, and hikes or runs along the parkway. He carries a digital camera to document the camps and barrages officials with images from his Web site.

“On a recent hike, he found a few active camps and numerous old campsites littered with piles of bicycle parts, sleeping bags, clothes and garbage. In one spot, a red loose-leaf binder lay in the middle of the path. Inside were neatly clipped male pornography pictures, enclosed in plastic sleeves.

“Slobe argues that it's unfair for the county to tolerate massive, illegal camping in the portion of the parkway that abuts one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"There should be programmed activities down there every single day of the year," he said "There should be day camps for kids. There should be interpretative services and signage."

“Without a hint of facetiousness, he offers to donate tents and chemical toilets for homeless camps to be set up in East Portal Park, Curtis Park, Land Park - all in more affluent neighborhoods. Nobody has taken him up on the offer.

“Sacramento is certainly not the only city that has a homeless camping problem. San Francisco has struggled with illegal camping in Golden Gate Park. Some Santa Cruz councilmen recently caused a stir when they proposed allowing homeless people to get permits to camp in city parks as long as they helped clean them.

“But Sacramento is unusual in that it has a long strip of relatively wild parkland running the length of the metropolitan area.

"We do have a beautiful parkway that has lots of forested areas where people can be protected from the weather," said Jan Gallaway, homeless program manager at the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance. "It really draws people here."

“The 460-acre portion of the parkway next to North Sacramento - an area larger than Discovery Park, Ancil Hoffman Park or Goethe Park - is designated in the 1985 parkway plan as a nature area. Only limited recreation, such as hiking or horseback riding, is allowed.

“But there is no nature center here. There are no signs directing hikers where to go. Slobe said an overturned chemical toilet once was allowed to lie in the middle of the bike path for four months.

"Most of the investment the county has made in the parkway has been outside the city of Sacramento," said Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo.

“Fargo said the city might be willing "to get in there and offer some facilities," if it could work out a lease agreement with the county. A skateboard park maybe, or disc golf, or even a scenic drive along the river.

“The county is working on an update of the parkway plan, but is unlikely to allow large-scale active recreation in North Sacramento's portion of the parkway.

"I would hate to put green grass sprinklers in there," said Ron Suter, director of the county parks department. "That area is designed for the deer and the critters."

“Lydick said the department is trying to come up with ideas but that critics have to be patient. His department, hamstrung by a lack of funding, is struggling just to pick up the garbage.

"We're not exaggerating when we say we've taken 28 tons of trash out of there since July," Lydick said. "We're trying to make improvements down there. We've added staff. This isn't a problem that's going to be fixed in one day, one week or one month."

Friday, February 04, 2011

Some History of Parkway Illegal Camping

To remind everyone of the length of time that illegal camping by the homeless has been a problem on the Parkway, and how long Bob Slobe (namesake of our Parkway Advocate Award) has been advocating something be done about it, here is an article from 2001.

It was a long meeting with Bob Slobe many years ago which helped me decide to found ARPPS as a nonprofit organization, and assume a role supporting Bob’s advocacy to make the Parkway safe in the Lower Reach area.

Here is the article from the Sacramento Bee.

The Sacramento Bee 2001-08-06 METRO METRO FINAL B1
Robert D. Davila, Bee Staff Writer,

Parkway plight, Illegal camps along river spur action

“As homeless people stream toward downtown every morning on north 12th and 16th streets, troubling signs of where some spent the night remain behind in the American River Parkway.

“Piles of discarded clothes and shoes. Empty beverage bottles, beer cans and food wrappers. Scattered mattresses and sleeping bags. Tents, tarps, abandoned furniture and stripped bicycles. Soiled toilet paper and feces. Drug paraphernalia.

“The environmental toll is visible, too: Oak branches cut and stacked for cover. Holes dug for campfires. Elderberry trees consumed as firewood. Marshes littered with trash. Grassland trampled and destroyed.

“Prompted by complaints from North Sacramento activist Bob Slobe, the county is stepping up efforts to stop illegal camping in the lower American River Parkway. During summer, many homeless people leave the hard sidewalks and doorways downtown for the lush woods on the north side of the river between Highway 160 and the Capital City Freeway.

“Last month, the parks department assigned two rangers to patrol the lower parkway area to issue citations and clean out abandoned camps. During the first three weeks, "I'd say we took about 15 truckloads of garbage from out of there, and we haven't even made a dent in it," Ranger Supervisor Dave Lydick said.

“County Executive Terry Schutten, who recently toured abandoned camps, agreed to seek permanent funding for the enforcement effort in next year's budget.

“Meanwhile, a meeting of local officials, homeless advocates and community activists is planned.

“Solutions won't be easy. With emergency shelters full, homeless advocates argue, many of the illegal campers simply have no other place to go. Others contend campsites damage natural habitat and discourage other people from using the parkway. Meanwhile, both sides alternately blame local officials for not providing more low-income housing and for failing to enforce anti-camping laws.

“Along with citations, officers issue a list of social services agencies to campers in the parkway. But the encounters can be frustrating for both parties, Ranger Will Safford said.

"One guy got all mad at me and said, 'What are we supposed to do?' " Safford said. "I tell people that there is only so much we can do, but the fact is that they can't camp in the parkway."

“On a recent patrol with partner Cres Aldridge, Safford cited Steven Dimas for illegal camping near Discovery Park. Dimas said he had spent two months deep inside a wooded area between the Garden Highway and the Sacramento River.

"I don't like people in shelters," said Dimas, who is on probation. "I have anger management" problems, he added.

“Slobe, whose family once owned the parkway land next to North Sacramento, earlier this year launched a campaign to draw attention to illegal camping. He bombarded officials with calls and e-mails, testified before the county parks commission and set up a Web site with dozens of pictures of trash and damage left by campers.

“Slobe complained that the parkway between Highway 160 and the Capital City Freeway gets less attention than areas upstream in Arden, Carmichael and Fair Oaks. If the county can't maintain the lower American River area, he said, a new steward should take over the area.

"If they can fund the golf ball machine at Ancil Hoffman (golf course), they can fund this," Slobe said. "It's a horrible problem, and it's unfair to put me or anybody else in the position of having to scream about this."

“Parks chief Ron Suter said most campers choose the parkway by downtown because it is near social services for homeless people. Even Discovery Park, which receives heavy attention, has homeless campers, he said.

“Tim Brown, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, said he disagrees with some advocates who who call for a legal camping site for homeless people. "People should be in housing and not settle for camping," he said.

“But enforcement against homeless campers in the parkway is not a solution, Brown added.

"Giving people tickets when the shelters are full is immoral and unnecessary," he said. "You get tickets (or) warrants and end up going to jail in some cases just because you have no choices."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Delta Smelt

More than you probably wanted to know about the small fish that is playing such a large role in the ability of California to transfer water from the wet northern part of the state to the dry middle and southern parts, from the Los Angeles Times.

An excerpt.

“When Peter Moyle began studying an obscure little Northern California fish in the early 1970s, he had no inkling of the role it would come to play in the state.

“No one had paid much attention to the delta smelt. "They were just there," recalled Moyle, then an assistant professor at UC Davis in need of a research topic. "We knew nothing about it."

“Nearly four decades later, the delta smelt is arguably the most powerful player in California water. Its movements rule the pumping operations of the state's biggest water projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Efforts to stave off its demise have at times reduced water deliveries to 25 million people and 2 million acres of farmland, magnifying the impact of the recent drought and forcing farmers to fallow fields. Politicians harangue it and maneuver to gut the regulations that protect it.

“Why all the fuss over a puny creature — streaked in steely blue, redolent of cucumbers and no bigger than a woman's little finger — that Central Valley congressmen and Fox News broadcasters belittle as a worthless bait fish and "a 2-inch minnow"? Why not just crank up the pumps and forget the thing?

“Moyle, whose work helped earn the delta smelt a spot on the federal endangered species list in 1993, is philosophical at first: The American people have decided that we should not wipe species after species off the face of the Earth.

“Then he gets more pragmatic. "If the delta smelt goes away, it's not going to solve the problem" of California's dependence on the ailing delta for a good measure of its water, Moyle said. He reels off a list of prized fish that use the delta and are also in trouble, such as chinook salmon and green sturgeon. Help the smelt, he says, and we help them.

“Bill Bennett is a former graduate student of Moyle's who picked up his mentor's research baton and passion for delta smelt. He champions Hypomesus transpacificus as a unique native whose fate is entwined with that of the West Coast's largest estuary.

“Drive the delta smelt and other natives into oblivion, he warns, and we will wind up with "the McDonalds and Wal-Mart version of California," overrun with generic species from elsewhere. "I think people appreciate the real California rather than something they can get everywhere."

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Pensions/Salaries Drive Budgets

In this story from the Sacramento Bee, the cost of supporting current and former public employees is striking.

An excerpt.

“The cost of public employee pensions is about to hit City Hall even harder.

“Due in large part to a 2008 CalPERS investment loss, the city will have to add $5 million to its annual payment into the retirement system this year, budget officials said this week.

“That number will eventually increase to an additional $16 million four years from now.

“The timing couldn't be worse.

“City Hall is facing a deficit of between $35 million and $40 million for the upcoming fiscal year in its general fund budget, which pays for police officers, firefighters, parks and most other city services, officials told the City Council on Tuesday.

“That gap represents roughly 20 percent of the city's discretionary spending.

“While not all of the estimated $53 million the city will pump into the pension system this year will come from the general fund, the extra $5 million contribution will, budget officials said.

“The new pension contributions come as the city enters its fifth straight budget cycle dealing with a deficit.

“Over the past four years, City Hall has addressed more than $180 million in cumulative deficits through service cuts, layoffs, labor union concessions and one-time fixes.

“Budget officials warned that the options for solving this year's gap are few.

“The city's "rainy day" fund has gone from $30 million to $10.5 million. Other one-time revenue sources such as parking cash that in the past have avoided cuts to Fire Department staffing and pool hours make up "a short list," Assistant City Manager Patti Bisharat said.

“Past deficits have also resulted in some department budgets being cut in half and 900 positions getting cut from the payroll. With less left to cut, "this year is going to be the most difficult" of the downturn, Bisharat said.

"The fact of the matter is we're not going to be able to do everything that we're currently doing," Bisharat said in an interview. "We've said that before, but we've eliminated some things and I think everyone has been trying to hang on, hoping it would get better."

“The deficit is a result of stagnant revenue sources – mostly sales and property taxes – and growing expenses, including salaries and benefits, according to a budget report.

“Budget officials said that 79.6 percent of the city's bankroll pays for labor, up from about 70 percent just a few years ago.”

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

K Street Comeback?

Has it finally happened, the right combination of current projects and soon-to-become projects creating the destination entertainment/restaurant hub envisioned for years?

We certainly hope so, but after all the years of redevelopment drama, we will have to wait a little longer to say, with any confidence, yes.

An excerpt from the recent article in the Sacramento Bee.

“Maybe you've heard about the mermaid? (She can smile underwater while bubbles come out of her nose.)

“Perhaps you've heard about the mammoth truck coming out of the wall? (I sat at the bar under the ultraclean chassis and lived to tell about it.)

“And surely you've heard about the millions in city funds spent on rehabilitating a section of downtown Sacramento's K Street that used to be really dead (and a tad scary).

“Yes, Pizza Rock and the Dive Bar right next door have opened with a flourish and, yes, they have rejuvenated the block faster than you can say, "Hold the anchovies."

“We made two trips there in recent days to gather a few impressions and see whether all that work, all that money and all that water in the mermaid tank have been worth it. The project is spearheaded by Bay Area impressario George Karpaty, who doesn't just dream – he dreams big.

“On our first visit, on a Sunday night, I was startled to see the K Street Mall teeming with energy, even if the Broiler and Ella Dining Room and Bar were closed.

“Inside, Pizza Rock was packed with folks of all ages. The music was upbeat and spanned the spectrum from old favorites to new hits. I remember Neil Diamond followed by Pearl Jam.

“On our next visit, a Tuesday, there was a 30-minute wait for a table. This, in a once-dilapidated building that sat empty for two decades while everyone debated how K Street should be revived.

“Pizza and mermaids and millions are not the entire answer, but they are certainly giving the K Street Mall an oversize dose of momentum. Nearby Ambrosia Cafe, a popular spot for lunch and breakfast, has already announced it will stay open most nights until 11:30 and focus on serving desserts.

“On our Tuesday visit, we took a short stroll with a Pizza Rock beeper in hand while waiting for our table. Looking around the area, we were able to see the pieces coming together. Just around the corner, on 10th Street toward J Street, were Temple Coffee and Grange Restaurant & Bar in the Citizen Hotel, which was also part of a restoration story. Also in the mix was Bud's Buffet, the legendary lunch spot that could and should become a really cool late-night hangover-abatement eatery. The Cosmopolitan. The Crest Theatre. The Esquire Imax. Pyramid Alehouse. Esquire Grill.

“There's a movement afoot. It's not a full-fledged entertainment district yet, but it's beginning to look and feel like one.”