Breton on Parkway Fires

Another good column in the Sacramento Bee as Sacramento still struggles with what to do about the fires and the homeless.

An excerpt.

We have an epidemic threatening wildlife and public safety that’s being met with shrugged shoulders and resignation, as if it were a problem too big for Sacramento to fix.

Fires continue to scorch the American River Parkway. The topic has been visited before in this space. It’s a source of great consternation among policymakers countywide. Yet the parkway keeps burning because there is a moral quandary behind the fires destroying Sacramento’s 23-mile urban forest.

What is to be done with the homeless people camping illegally in the park, primarily along the lower stretch of the American River and on city land? Until that question is answered with permanent supportive housing – until Sacramento decides that it is unacceptable for people to be living in the woods – the parkway will keep catching fire.

If Sacramento thinks that nothing can be done to combat the toxic mix of illegal campers, arson and miles of dry vegetation caused by a four-year drought, then shame on all of us.

Under Mayor Kevin Johnson, Sacramento is in nonstop celebration mode these days. Look, world! We’re cool! And let us tell you how cool we are at this choreographed news conference! It’s leadership by photo op. It’s hollow slogans like “Sacramento 3.0” when there are serious social issues that demand more than slogans.

Virtually everyone knows why Sacramento’s urban forest keeps catching fire. And the largest concentration of fires on the parkway have been within the city limits of Sacramento. But the parkway is the responsibility of Sacramento County because it stretches beyond the city and through several other areas.

The county has $6.5 million to spend annually on all parks countywide, meaning that only a small handful of park rangers are available to patrol the underbrush where people are living illegally and where most of the fires are starting.

As the result of a 2009 lawsuit, park rangers cannot remove unoccupied illegal campsites without first posting a 48-hour notice for inhabitants to remove their belongings. Campers can simply move their stuff to another spot and the process begins again.

So what happens? Fires. There had been more than 50 fires on the parkway since May. They haven’t stopped.

Read more here:

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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