Opinion: City should be aggressively removing riverbed campsites
An open letter to Mayor Steve Martin and the Paso Robles City Council
–It was encouraging to hear the Paso Robles City Fire and Police Chief report on efforts being made to prevent a major fire in the Salinas riverbed that would threaten homes, businesses, and lives.
The riverbed has been declared a high fire risk area and notices have been posted requiring that all persons vacate and all personal property be removed from the riverbed by May 25, 2021. Interestingly, however, the chief admitted that the rate and number of riverbed fires have not decreased, that no one has left the riverbed, and no personal property has been removed from the riverbed since the original 50,000 pounds of trash was hauled out earlier this year.
It was also heartening to hear Mayor Pro-Tem John Hamon express his concern, suggesting that the city must adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward riverbed camping.
As with many public policy discussions, it is important to take note of what was not discussed.
Alarmingly absent from the chief’s remarks was actual tent removal. It appears that contrary to the notices posted, the City has no intention of removing tents or tent-like shelters constructed by illegal campers. This omission confirms the veracity of the conversation I had with a young female camper on Saturday, May 29. This young camper, who was clearly suffering from the early onset disease of addiction, told me that the Community Action Team told her not to worry. Reportedly, they told her “We won’t be removing tents, only trash.”
And yet, there is a well-established and simple legal procedure for handling personal belongings owned by people who are in unlawful possession of real property: a 72-hour notice, followed by storage of all personal belongings for 90 days. The notice posted by the city is legal, and states that “Individuals wishing to reclaim personal property may contact Evidence Tech Alissa Reina at 900 Park Street (805) 227-7519 for a period of 90 days following May 28, 2021.”
We never should have allowed trespassers to inhabit public property in the first place. It is beyond my ability to comprehend why, if the goal is to protect the city from fire, we aren’t rapidly and aggressively removing entire campsites, including tents and makeshift shelters. The benefit of action far outweighs the cost of continued inaction.
We are stewards of this environmentally sensitive habitat. We need to protect the riverbed. It makes no sense that a small number of people can commandeer a section of public property and an incredible natural resource while simultaneously threatening the safety of our community. Time is running out. Not unlike any other land battle, it may need to be restored and protected one section at a time from South to North, systematically fenced off, and patrolled by law enforcement and/or volunteers.
For anyone like myself, who feels compassion for people suffering from addiction and mental illness, please remember that recovery never happens in the riverbed.
Commander, U.S. Navy Ret.
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