Riverside bans camping in Santa Ana River bed, other fire-prone areas
David Downey (email@example.com), The Press-Enterprise
03 de agosto de 2022
Confronted with a crushing homelessness crisis that consistently ranks at the top of residents’ concerns, Riverside officials moved Tuesday night, Aug. 2, to ban camping and storing property in areas prone to fires and floods.
The Riverside City Council voted 6-1 to approve an ordinance that makes it illegal “for any person to sit, lie, sleep, or store, use, maintain, or place any bulky item or personal property” in so-called wildland urban interface areas where neighborhoods rub up against natural areas. These include the Santa Ana River bed, Hole Lake and Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park.
City Council Member Clarissa Cervantes voted no.
“I personally am concerned that there will be unintended consequences with enforcing the ordinance,” Cervantes said Wednesday, Aug. 3, adding that there aren’t enough places in town to house people living in river-bed encampments.
“Where are they supposed to go?” she asked.
City Council Member Jim Perry is one of those who backed the measure. People who reside in homes near or own businesses along the Santa Ana River live in fear that wildfires will wipe out their “lifelong investment,” Perry said, and the ordinance is a “good step” toward addressing that.
“But we also need some coordination with the jurisdictions who surround us, because otherwise we are going to move them from one side of the river to the other and the problem isn’t going to go away,” he said.
The measure has been in the works for months and is intended to aid a team anchored by 16 police officers, two police sergeants, eight outreach workers and two fire captains that is being assembled as part of a $5.8 million program to move people out of river-bed encampments and into shelters or housing. About one month ago, the council adopted a five-year plan for addressing homelessness.
The plan’s rollout also follows a county decision in spring to ban outdoor burning because of the drought and high fire danger.
Against the backdrop of soaring home prices and increasing conflict between residents and people living on the street, encampments have spread in the wildland areas along the city’s edges. Residents and officials have said that trend is of particular concern in the fire-prone river area where blazes routinely break out and threaten nearby houses. Some wildfires were started by cooking and warming fires that got away from people camped there.
According to a city report, the Riverside Fire Department has battled 163 brush fires in the river bottom in the past five years, two-thirds of them caused by people. Between 2017 and this year, city firefighters also fought 12 wildfires in Sycamore Canyon, four in the Hawarden Hills and one in the La Sierra Hills, the report states. Most of those blazes were started by people as well.
In summer and fall 2021, outreach teams recorded 52 homeless encampments in the wildland urban interface areas, 39 of them within the city’s boundaries and 13 just outside, the report states.
“There have been 63 fires just in Ward 1, just in the river bottom, since January of 2022,” Council Member Erin Edwards said.
“We need to address both the fires and the humanitarian crisis that is decades in the making in the river bottom,” Edwards said.
City officials said they intend to comply with a key federal appeals court ruling involving Boise, Idaho, that bars cities from uprooting people camped on public property if there aren’t shelters and other places for them to go, while permitting municipalities to limit the places and times in which people may sleep on public land.
Cervantes, however, said more needs to be done about the needs of homeless people before adopting the ordinance, which takes effect in September.
Wildfires are a serious threat to public safety and the river bottom is “not a healthy environment for people,” she said. But not everyone will agree to move to a shelter or housing, she said. With that in mind, Cervantes said she would like to explore providing a place in the city where homeless people could safely, and legally, camp.
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Downey, D. (2022). Riverside bans camping in Santa Ana River bed, other fire-prone areas. The Press-Enterprise. Recuperado el 07 de agosto de 2022, de https://www.pe.com/2022/08/03/riverside-bans-camping-in-santa-ana-river-bed-other-fire-prone-areas/