San Diego Acting to Remove Homeless Camps Along River

They appear to be serious, as this story from the San Diego Union reports, Sacramento, take note!

An excerpt.

Half a dozen police officers on Thursday scoured the western end of the San Diego River for homeless camps, often detaining people in handcuffs before dispersing them with a warning not to return.

Officers routinely used phones equipped with facial-recognition software to check for outstanding warrants on the scruffy-looking folks lazing about the watershed in plain sight or hidden in thick foliage.

After law enforcement cleared an area, code enforcement officer Kelly Gower posted neon-green signs informing anyone squatting along a particular stretch of the river that they had 72 hours to leave ahead of scheduled cleanups. Those who don’t clear out face the possibility of losing their belongings or being arrested.

“There’s rarely a day that I’m not posting or abating,” said Gower, who had been largely focused on efforts to clean up downtown before she was recently assigned to the river. “We really should have a crew and a code officer like myself doing this full time, and then we could keep it clean for sure.”

Thursday’s sweeps are part of an unprecedented campaign to remove homeless encampments — and the trash that comes with them — from the watershed, which has long been plagued by polluted water, including human feces.

Since September, crews working for the city have hauled out more than 100 tons of garbage and debris from the riverbed. The effort is part of a larger effort to sanitize areas frequented by homeless and drug users, who have been blamed for spreading a massive hepatitis A outbreak that hospitalized at least 396 people and killed 20, according to county health officials.

The city has contracted with Alpha Project to haul out trash from the river twice a week through the end of March. The city has yet to provide an estimate for how much it’s spending on the project, but it’ll likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars based on similar abatement contracts.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said he will be looking for support from the City Council in this year’s budget negotiations to provide continued funding for not only cleaning up the river but maintaining it into the future.

“I’m going to need the help and support of everyone when it comes to budget time to make sure this is a priority of the city,” Faulconer said last month at a press conference announcing the campaign.

In response, some water-quality advocates expressed doubt about whether the city will commit to a long-term restoration of the river, which is also routinely blasted with chemicals and heavy metals from polluted rainwater runoff.

“I think it will help water quality but it’s short lived,” said Livia Borak, an attorney with Coast Law Group. “I think this is an emergency measure. It would be nice to have this process year round.”

Cleaning up the river has and will likely continue to be labor intensive — from the contracted cleanup crews to the code enforcement officers to the police presence needed to secure potentially dangerous areas of the river shrouded in trees and brush.

Trudging along the muddy banks of the river on Thursday, officers drew their guns as they approached a cluster of tents hidden deep in watershed east of state Route 163. While the camp was empty, officers explained that they had recently made tense arrests in the area.

“Sometimes you get parolees at large — knives, guns,” said Sgt. Matt Randolph, with the Quality of Life Team for the department Western Division. “People run. They fight. So we try to take the whole team when we go down there and contact them.”

The campaign to clean up the riverbed has elated The San Diego River Park Foundation, which for decades has worked to maintain the watershed. Similar campaigns to restore rivers and creeks have gained momentum in recent years from Los Angeles to New York.

“We’re pretty happy,” said Rob Hutsel, president and co-founder of the foundation, which itself has removed roughly 35 tons of trash from the river since September. “There’s coordination challenges, but the amount of work being done is significant.”

Retrieved January 8, 2017 from

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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