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    The board of the Boy Scouts' Golden Empire Council says development is encroaching on Camp Pollock, with a housing project and a "Green Line" light-rail extension scheduled for completion in Sacramento's River District across the American River.

  • LEZLIE STERLING / Bee file, 2001

    A Boy Scout sets up his tent at Camp Pollock, a 10-acre compound on the American River that is one of four camps used by 20,000 Scouts from Vacaville to Redding. The regional board of the Scouts has voted to sell the land, which George and Irma Pollock donated in the 1930s.

Boy Scouts will sell campground in Sacramento

Published: Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 18, 2012 - 7:52 pm

Camp Pollock, the historic Sacramento campground where generations of Northern California boys have practiced their Scouting skills, is soon to be on the sales block, officials have confirmed.

One potential buyer? SafeGround, the nonprofit group that is seeking to establish a place in Sacramento where homeless people can live in small cottages with basic services.

"The executive board has made a decision to sell the camp," said Paul Helman, president of the Golden Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

He said the council, which oversees the activities of 20,000 Scouts from Vacaville to Redding, has outgrown the Sacramento property, which stretches over 10 acres off Northgate Boulevard along the American River. Members, he said, are concerned about encroaching development and traffic.

"We also want to get out of the flatlands in the middle of summer," Helman said. "We looked at our future property and program needs and decided that we should move on from Camp Pollock, put it up for sale."

Some Scout supporters are upset about the prospective sale of the property, which Sacramento business owners George and Irma Pollock donated to the Boy Scouts in the 1930s.

"It's scary because they're giving up something that is huge to our program," said Jeremy Palomar, 34, of Fair Oaks, who camped at Pollock as a young Scout and whose son has taken trips to the property. "Camp Pollock is close. You can have a high-adventure camping experience, but you're in town. The Boy Scouts have this gem and they are trying to get rid of it for money."

Helman said the campsite is being appraised and declined to estimate its worth. He also declined to comment on whether SafeGround would be a good fit for the property.

"We will look at all offers and options," he said.

SafeGround's executive director, Steve Watters, said the group has made inquiries about Camp Pollock. "We'd be interested, but we're also looking at other options," he said.

Watters said he is uncertain whether a proposal for a homeless facility near the downtown River District, whose residents have complained about a concentration of such services in the area, would fly.

"It might be better to find something a little farther out and funnel people out of the river area," Watters said. "We might win some allies that way."

Mark Merin, a local civil rights attorney who supports SafeGround, said the group may have identified a "perfect" site for a pilot project on 1.4 acres of empty land on Del Paso Boulevard near Highway 160.

"We have that piece of property tied up with a letter of intent so we can go to the city planning commission with it," Merin said.

"Camp Pollock is much bigger, and I'm sure more expensive, and that's a big undertaking. It might work for some time in the future when we are more established. But right now, we just want to take that first step, a pilot project."

Merin said the group plans to erect a mockup of a potential SafeGround "and put it in a public place, where people can see it and it can be demystified" in advance of seeking permits for the project.

The SafeGround movement began several years ago in response to police rousting homeless people from a large encampment along the American River Parkway. Police continue to break up scattered homeless camps as they find them, citing a city ordinance that bars sleeping outside in undesignated places for longer than 24 hours.

SafeGround members ultimately hope for a village of small cottages with running water, bathrooms and other basic services, plus services such as job training and counseling.

Merin said he is confident that SafeGround can raise the money to buy or lease land for the community it envisions. "It's much easier to do that when you have an actual piece of property," rather than simply a concept, he said.

Mayor Kevin Johnson has said he is open to a SafeGround, but the concept has been a tough sell to other city leaders. More than two years of negotiations, lawsuits and meetings between the nonprofit and city officials have failed to move the project forward.

Regardless of where it is established, SafeGround likely will continue to face political hurdles, said Merin. Even though Camp Pollock has been approved for camping and has basic services, putting a SafeGround on the property would require city permits that likely would be contested, he said.

The potential sale of the Boy Scout property, one of few urban campsites in the country, has triggered protest from supporters who argue its sale will harm Scouts who cannot afford to travel to outlying areas.

Besides offering a lodge, tent camping and recreation, the property also serves as a training site for Scouts and a gathering site for veterans, American Indians and other groups. The Golden Empire Council operates three other Boy Scout camps, all in the Sierra. The Sacramento camp is the only one open all year.

"Shame on all of you," Steve Beck of Sacramento, who has a long history with the camp, wrote in a recent email to Boy Scout council members. Like Palomar, Beck is a lifetime Scout who has earned its highest ranking, Eagle.

"You have forgotten your oath and motto," he wrote to the council. "Most of all you've forgotten your sole purpose, providing for the troops and the boys. You dishonor the council, Boy Scouts of America and the great gift the Pollock family gave to the council and community."

Helman said he understands the emotional ties to the property. "It's something we've certainly enjoyed, and we have no disrespect for the folks who have worked to make the camp successful," he said. "But it's time to move on and look for other places. We need to focus on the bigger, broader picture."

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Read more articles by Cynthia Hubert

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