Beginning today, Sacramento County authorities will begin taking several significant steps aimed at saving the American River Parkway from environmental harm caused by illegal camping.
Large swaths of Sacramento's gorgeous urban park have been degraded by human waste, fires and enough debris for 2,000 volunteers to collect 14,000 pounds of garbage over the weekend.
Today, teams of park rangers and sheriff's deputies will begin enforcing a dusk-to-dawn closure of the parkway with a goal of preventing people from camping there overnight.
A representative of the county's Department of Human Assistance will be on hand beginning Sunday to provide homeless campers with information on housing options.
A county memo detailing the operation states: "The enforcement will be daily and continue indefinitely. This is not a short-term effort."
The Sacramento Police Department has a role to play and may conduct enforcement sweeps several times a week.
In past years, such actions tended to be viewed as unkind treatment of homeless campers by members of the public and the media.
That should not be the case.
When North Sacramento residents become afraid to ride their bikes along parkway trails and when the native ecosystem of a valuable Sacramento resource becomes threatened it's time to act.
In addition, the state Department of Transportation is clearing trash and vegetation on the north end of the Highway 160 bridge and will move dirt around the overpass to fortify it and make it less accessible to campers.
Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna confirmed Caltrans is worried that the structural integrity of the bridge could be compromised if tunneling and digging by illegal campers is not stopped.
There also are plans to fence off the south end of the Highway 160 bridge and a wooded area adjacent to the bike path at Highway 160 and Del Paso Boulevard.
These steps are needed to discourage faith groups from dropping off food for homeless campers in the parkway.
"Feeding in the parkway is discouraged for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it gives the impression that camping or being in the parkway after dark is permitted," Serna said. "It's not."
As he did last year, Serna will begin a media campaign this fall to raise money for additional beds to house homeless people this winter.
For some time now, Serna has been the one Sacramento politician who has sounded the right notes on the homeless issue in Sacramento. His emphasis has been on getting people into housing and resisting any efforts to allow people to sleep and live outside.
It's the only way.