Pit Bulls in the Parkway

Too many of them, belonging to the homeless illegally camping in the Parkway, are running loose and biting Parkway users, as this story in the Sacramento Bee reports.

An excerpt.

Gabriel Frazee was riding his bike near a homeless encampment on the American River Parkway last month when he was attacked by two pit bulls.

One dog, Wally, bit Frazee on the ankle and twice on the leg, hitting bone with the last two bites, Frazee said. The other dog, Felony, bit his forearm. Frazee received sutures for the bites in the emergency room, records show.

Getting attacked by an aggressive dog is a persistent fear among runners, bikers and other regular users of the American River Parkway. Just as illegal camping has increased garbage and fires along the parkway, it also accounts for another problem – unleashed dogs that serve as companions and security guards for homeless people clustered on the riverbanks.

Larry Glover-Meade, president of the Woodlake Neighborhood Association, and Jim Brown, executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, say they have received a number of complaints about dogs on the parkway. They believe the concerns deter people from using the parkway, particularly west of Sacramento State where camps are concentrated.

“Unfortunately what happened to Gabe (Frazee) is what a lot of people have feared or experienced on the parkway,” Brown said.

Lily Toppenberg said she was chased by a pit bull when she was riding her bike on the parkway to her home in the adjacent Woodlake neighborhood. She was not bit but remains fearful.

“I now carry bear spray on my handlebars when riding,” she said.

According to animal control officials for the city and county of Sacramento, most of the dogs owned by the homeless are pit bulls or pit-bull mixes. “The homeless seem to need these dogs for protection and sometimes these dogs don’t know when protection is really needed and attack for the wrong reasons,” said Dave Dickinson, director of the county’s Department of Animal Care and Regulation.

In the last three years, 17 dog bites have been reported to city animal control for incidents on the city portion of the parkway, said Sacramento Chief Animal Control Officer Jace Huggins. Dog bites are inevitably the result of a unleashed dog, he said. Under the state law, dogs cannot be tethered to objects, meaning that dogs on the parkway should always be held by the owner on a leash.

Sacramento County rangers cite about a half-dozen people every month for not having dogs on leashes in county parks, including the American River Parkway. More often than not, rangers let offenders off with a warning. Rangers issued 107 citations and 492 warnings for leash violations in 2014 and 2015, the last years complete statistics are available.

Frazee was bit by an unleashed dog and then by the other dog after its owner let go of the leash trying to assist Frazee.

County spokeswoman Kim Nava said rangers try to educate dog owners, citing them only after warnings fail to produce compliance.

Frazee blames county rangers for his attack. He said it would not have happened if the county enforced the camping ordinance and prevented homeless people and their dogs from living on the parkway. He pointed to a December story in The Sacramento Bee showing that rangers were on pace to cite half as many people for illegal camping on the parkway last year.

Posted in Homelessness, Public Safety

Backhoeing Illegal Homeless Camps

Two things leap out from this very informative article in Sacramento News & Review: the tragic and desperate conditions under which the homeless live, and the importance of clearing out camps that are dangerous, polluted, and often fire- traps.

An excerpt.

The Bobcat’s scoop shovel crashed into a line of camping gear, litter churning as a gnarled pretzel of aluminum poles and bike frames was hoisted high against the breeze.

“You better move your tent or they gonna take it,” a probationer on the work crew called out, sauntering along the top of the levee in his sagging pants and neon-orange vest.

A man and woman labored to yank their tent stakes from the ground. Having cut up a plastic shelter 30 feet from them, the Bobcat rumbled straight for their camp. The couple managed to pry the rods out, but couldn’t slip the collapsible poles from the canvas before the backhoe moved in. Grabbing the tent from opposite sides and lifting it like a wind sail, they tripped across the bike path down through the weeds on the far bank.

For now, their meager home was spared. Many others weren’t.

Every makeshift shelter and lean-to facing Steelhead Creek’s side of the levee was destroyed. Every tent and pile of belongings hurried several strides over the bike trail was spared.

For Sacramento County’s homeless residents, this seemingly arbitrary game of cat and mouse is getting old.

Ramona Jasper watched her friends dash by with armloads of stuff. She lowered her head. “I’m so tired of this life,” she said, the tears welling up. “I’m just so tired.”

It’s a life that afflicts thousands more than the public has been led to believe, SN&R has learned.

According to figures obtained by this newspaper, Sacramento County had 13,362 homeless people enrolled in a special food-assistance program this past March that allows them to use their CalFresh benefits at participating restaurants.

The new figure is more than five times higher than the 2,659 county residents who were said to have experienced homelessness on any given night in 2015.

The smaller number comes from a federally required point-in-time count that occurs on a single winter night every other January, when volunteers armed with clipboards venture out to try to approximate the scale of the suffering.

These PIT counts are widely believed to underestimate the actual number of homeless residents, but they’re performed because the results determine how much money each community receives from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Besides, homelessness advocates and service providers had never had the hard data to prove the counts were off. Now, they do.

“I never believed the point-in-time count—I don’t think anybody believed it was accurate,” said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness. “It always undercounted families and it always undercounted youth. But I didn’t think it undercounted adults by a factor of four. That was just really stunning to me.”

“This helps define the scale of the crisis,” Erlenbusch added.

It’s a crisis that has forced city and county leaders to confront a safety net that has allowed so many to fall through it. With politicians on both sides refusing to rescind local laws that make sleeping outdoors a crime, some elected officials are fighting uphill battles to secure land where homeless residents can lodge and access services without fear of arrest or lost possessions.

But the process has been slowed by a game of political calculus. In the meantime, there are more than 13,000 people waiting for their elected representatives to come up with an answer.

The backhoe’s tank tracks rolled toward another camp. Down the levee bank, perched against a graffiti-laced fence under loops of razor wire, Mary Buck kept close to the wavering flames that cracked in her fire pit.

Two days ago, the rangers issued a warning to everyone in the area. Buck followed it by moving her camp down the hill, out of the danger zone.

She’s been homeless for a decade, staying mainly near the city’s waterways after her mother’s death threw her into a spiral. Glancing up at the camps being destroyed, she said she didn’t blame residents who might have complained about the clutter along the trail. She’s also quick to note she doesn’t think the rangers take pleasure in destroying people’s makeshift homes. For Buck, it’s just the way things are.

Asked what will happen to the people living riverside after the dust clears, Buck had a quick response. “Some will stay and just go back on the other side of the creek when they’re done,” she said.

County rangers launched this cleanup action based on a combination of public complaints and concerns about the environmental damage the camps are doing to Sacramento’s creeks and rivers, said Chief Ranger Michael Doane. “These are part of our normal operations to clean up the parkway system,” he told SN&R. “And we were getting a lot of resident complaints around the amount of trash.”

Aided by the wind, the operation itself disseminated trash and debris into the creek.

According to Doane, the reason the rangers allowed homeless campers to move their belongings across the bike trail and leave it there is because that effort showed they really wanted to keep their stuff. People who weren’t around didn’t get that opportunity, he acknowledged.

And it’s still not legal for homeless people to camp on the other side of the trail. They just borrowed a little time.

Posted in Homelessness

Parkway Still Flooded

As this story from the Sacramento Bee reports, which is what happens when you don’t have enough water storage in the American River.

An excerpt.

The wettest winter in Northern California history ended the drought and produced an abundant Sierra Nevada snowpack.

Now it’s starting to melt, and quickly.

As state officials completed the final snowpack survey of the season Monday, forecasters predicted high river flows throughout spring into midsummer…

In Sacramento, county officials warned boaters and other recreational users about high flows on the American River this spring. Already Monday afternoon, a raft with five people aboard capsized when it hit a pedestrian bridge on the American River near Sunrise Boulevard. Three rafters made it to shore but two were left clinging to the bridge pilings until rescuers reached them.

Kim Nava, spokeswoman for Sacramento County Regional Parks, urged residents to avoid swift waters – or wear a life vest if they insist on going into the rivers. “Even the strongest swimmer can be pulled under,” she said.

Nava added that bicyclists and trail runners shouldn’t expect to see Discovery Park, submerged by the American River, to open any time soon.


Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam, Water

Transit Fantasy

Though I love the idea of bullet trains and other forms of rapid transit, our family will never use them, always preferring to drive our own car, even when having to fight through traffic.

It appears others do also, as this article from New Geography notes.

An excerpt.

According to The New York Times, the car used to be “king” in the city (municipality) of Los Angeles. “’A Different Los Angeles’, The City Moves to Alter its Sprawling Image,” was another story that seeks to portray the nation’s second largest municipality as having fundamentally changed. Following this now popular meme, a Slate story in 2016 referred to Los Angeles becoming “America’s next great transit city.” Los Angeles has surely become America’s greatest transit tax city, with Los Angeles County voters in 2016 approving a fourth half-cent sales tax increase principally for transit since 1980. Yet transit’s market share has fallen, not only in the nation’s largest county but even in the city of Los Angeles.

The Ascent of Transit: A False Narrative

The Los Angeles political establishment and media is virtually unanimous in its praise for the now quarter century old rail system. Yet, despite more than $15 billion being spent on rail transit the already meager levels of transit commuting in the city have fallen further, while solo driving has risen to an all time high. Unless platitudes are more important than results, rail’s success is a false narrative. People are driving more and using transit less according to the American Community Survey for 2015.

The share of city of Los Angeles residents commuting by transit fell from 11.2 percent in 2010 to 9.5 percent in 2015 (Figure 1, note truncated axis). The 2010 figure was the highest decennial census year transit figure in the period starting in 1980. Just five years later, in 2015, however, the city of Los Angeles transit commuting share had fallen below 1980 levels.

In 1980, 10.8 percent of the city’s commuters used transit, a figure that fell to 10.5 percent just before the initial Long Beach “Blue Line” opened in 1990. While new light rail lines and the Metro (subway) line opened after 1990, transit’s market share fell further, to 10.1 percent by 2010. During the 2000s, transit commuting rose 1.1 percentage points to the 11.2 percent figure, propelled by unprecedented gasoline price increases. But progress was short-lived as the share dropped to 9.5 percent in 2015.

City of Los Angeles Surge in Driving Alone

At the same time, commuters were turning even more to driving alone. In 2015, 69.8 percent of work trip access was by solo drivers. This represents a substantial increase from the 66.8 percent drive alone share in 2010. From 1980 to 2010, driving alone edged up slightly, much less than the increase in the last five years. In 1980, 65.1 percent of commuters drove alone. In 1990, a nearly identical 65.2 percent drove alone. In the last five years, driving alone has risen more than the entire previous 30-year increase in the city of Los Angeles.

Posted in Transportation

End Transit Subsidies

Long overdue, as this article from New Geography explains.

An excerpt.

Fifty-three years ago, the transit industry was mostly private and earned a net profit. Today, it’s almost entirely publicly owned, and subsidies have grown out of control. It’s time to take a stand and say all transportation subsidies are bad, but transit subsidies are the worst.

The National Transit Database says agencies spent more than $64 billion in 2015 yet collected less than $16 billion in fares. They carried about 55 billion passenger miles, for an average cost of $1.15 per passenger mile, of which 87 cents was subsidized. No other major mode of passenger transportation is anywhere near this expensive.

Americans spent about $1.1 trillion buying, operating, repairing, and insuring cars and light trucks in 2015, but they also drove their autos nearly 2.8 trillion miles. At average auto occupancies of 1.67 people (see table 16), that’s 4.6 trillion passenger miles by auto, for an average cost of about 24 cents per passenger mile. We don’t have 2015 data yet, but in 2014, government agencies spent about $72 billion subsidizing roads (add the $98 billion in “other taxes and fees” to the minus $10 billion in “less amount for nonhighway purposes” and the minus $16 billion for “less amount for mass transportation”).

This is more than was spent subsidizing transit, but those roads not only produced 70 times as much passenger travel, they were used to ship more than a quarter of the freight moved in this country. Ignoring the freight, the subsidy was about 1.6 cents per passenger mile, meaning the total cost of transit was more than four times the cost of driving.

Airfares are about 14 cents a passenger mile, making air travel a bargain. Airline subsidies are only a couple of cents a passenger mile (subtract government expenditures from government revenues and divide by passenger miles). Amtrak subsidies are comparatively horrendous at 22 cents a passenger mile but are still only a quarter of transit subsidies.

Posted in Transportation

Fake News & Abraham Lincoln

Republicans are talking a lot about Fake News these days and it is interesting to note that the founder of the Republican Party, President Abraham Lincoln, also had to deal with it during his campaign for president, as Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her great book, Team of Rivals:

“Although increasingly infuriated by Southern misrepresentation of his positions, Lincoln confined expression of his anger to private letters. Upon hearing from the New York Time’s Henry Raymond that one of his correspondents, a wealthy Mississippi gentleman named William Smedes, had justified the state’s “blaze of passion” for secession on the grounds that Lincoln was “pledged to the ultimate extinction of slavery, holds the black man to be the equal of the white, & stigmatizes our whole people as immoral & unchristian,” Lincoln issued a blistering reply. As evidence Smedes had cited an “infamous” speech Lincoln had purportedly given on the occasion when Chase was presented with his silver pitcher by the free blacks of Cincinnati. For such a speech, Smedes proclaimed, he would “regard death by a stroke of lightning to Mr. Lincoln as but a just punishment from an offended deity.”

“What a very mad-man your correspondent, Smedes is,” Lincoln replied, countering that he “was never in a meeting of negroes in [his] life; and never saw a pitcher presented by anybody to anybody.” Moreover, he went on. “Mr. Lincoln is not pledged to the ultimate extinction of slavery; does not hold the black man to be the equal of the white, unqualifiedly as Mr. S. states it; and never did stigmatize their white people as immoral & unchristian.” (p. 295). Doris Kearns Goodwin. (2005). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Posted in History

The Parkway’s Skid Row

Skid Rows develop largely as the result of inaction–or wanting to contain a problem–by public leadership allowing a public area of a city, or in this case, of a park, to sink into degradation by not appropriating the proper resources, including leadership, to ensure it remains safe and welcoming for residents and other visitors.

That this has happened to the Parkway from Discovery Park to Cal Expo and the long period of time that public leadership has allowed illegal camping on the Parkway is why it has—sadly and tragically for the adjacent neighborhoods and the homeless—become the Parkway’s Skid Row.

According to this April 21, 2017 article from the New York Times, this allowance is a status that has existed for many years.

An excerpt.

SACRAMENTO — For Robert Friend, home was a tent pitched down by the American River off 12th Street. It was quiet, secluded in the bushes, a respite from life on the pavement downtown.

Or at least it was until the storms came.

“I got flooded out,” said Mr. Friend, 48, looking weary on a recent afternoon as he stood on the sidewalk he had escaped to a few blocks from the river. “This is the worst winter I’ve known in the 10 years I’ve been here. Last night and the night before I was just under a tarp, waiting it out. It was freezing-raining all night long.”

The rains that lashed California this year, continuing with yet another wave of downpours through last weekend, have pulled this state out of a historic drought. But they also exposed the extent and agony of homeless women and men who have long made homes along the banks of the now-swollen rivers across California, and particularly in Sacramento, a city of 480,000 where a largely hidden community has lived on the outskirts since the Great Depression. According to city and state officials, about 2,700 of the 118,000 homeless people in California live here.

The rains — the most during California’s rainy season since the state started keeping precipitation records nearly a century ago — overwhelmed the two rivers that converge on the northwest side of the city, the Sacramento and the American. They ripped away the cloak of shrubbery along the rivers’ banks, forcing people camped there to move to more exposed ground. Cold, soaked and stranded, they used makeshift rafts to float to safety, or waited for rescue by the Fire Department from their camps two miles from the State Capitol and within walking distance of the Governor’s Mansion.

“The rivers rise, and people are flushed out of where they are staying,” said Joan Burke, the advocacy director for Sacramento Loaves and Fishes, which provides food and other services for people living on the street. “All of a sudden they are visible to the rest of us.”

Homelessness draws more attention in big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where tents and sleeping bags crowd downtown sidewalks. But it has increasingly become a fact of life in suburbs and moderate-size cities like this one, places that often do not have the resources to manage it, and where the backlash to what was once seen as uniquely urban problems can be particularly intense.

Two people died within a week just outside City Hall this winter, as they sought refuge from the rain and the cold. It was the kind of tragedy that might barely be noticed in a big city numb to people living on its streets, but was deeply unsettling for this community.

“It was a terrible thing for the people who were displaced,” Ms. Burke said. “But the beneficial effect was the rest of us saw there are these huge number of homeless people in Sacramento who were suffering in this weather. And it just sort of crystallized for a lot of people that this is not O.K.”

“Knock, knock.”

Cale Traylor stood a few feet from a blue tent close to the American River, a dog barking in the background, late last month. The people who live here call themselves the River Dwellers, Mr. Traylor said, and he was once one himself.

Mr. Traylor, 37, slept not far from this spot during a five-year binge of alcoholism, drug abuse, petty crime and homelessness. He knows how to navigate this world that was once his own: Keep a respectful distance when approaching; carry a bone to distract an unleashed pit bull that might come bounding out of the brush.

There was a rustle inside the tent, and James Guidi, a Vietnam War veteran, emerged, a dazed look on his face.

Mr. Guidi, 65, said the riverbanks had been his home for eight years, and he is one of the few who has stayed here through the winter. The night before, he slept in a tent left behind by someone who had wandered on. But earlier in the week he had to sleep on the ground as the storms blew through, tearing away the tarp that provided him scant protection.

“I slept in a puddle,” Mr. Guidi said. “It was more terrible than any time I had in Vietnam. I can compare it to over there.”

Mr. Traylor’s struggle with homelessness began when his father committed suicide in 2010, when he was 30, and continued until he was sent to the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi in 2015 for stealing a car and trying to outrace the police. When he disappeared after his father’s death, his family wrote him off as a lost cause.

Mr. Traylor said he was sober now, studying electronic automation at Sacramento City College. He sees his mother and sisters regularly.

“There used to be a ton of cover,” he said, pointing to a spot along the river. “It was an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. If the police can’t see you, then they typically leave you alone. When the water went up, it washed away all their coverage.”

Mr. Guidi said he didn’t care that his campsite was largely deserted as people fled the rains. “I’ve been living by the river here and there, off and on, for eight years,” he said. “People get along.”

Posted in ARPPS, Government, Homelessness