Here in Sacramento County we enjoy a unique natural setting that hugs one of our two large rivers: the American River Parkway. We cherish it, as we should, as a place to recreate, escape the trappings of urban life, and even to commute to and from work. These are all legitimate uses of our parkway.
Unfortunately, a recent Sacramento Bee editorial makes no mention of illegal camping a prohibited activity and the fire threat it poses ("With skimpy local support, parkway is set to go up in smoke," Aug. 7).
Even before a local homeless woman was arrested in connection with the recent spate of fires, those of us who have spent time trying to enjoy the parkway as legitimate users (e.g., cyclists, anglers, runners, equestrians, etc.) know too well that homeless encampments often come with campfires and other ignition sources such as cigarettes, lighters, candles and camp stoves. Having participated in a number of parkway cleanups along the lower reach of the parkway, I can tell you firsthand that many of the illegal camps have as their centerpiece dangerous makeshift incendiary sources used for cooking, illumination and warmth.
Because of what I know from personal experience, including an accidental hypodermic needle stick during a cleanup, and from what I hear from my constituents, who deserve a clean and safe parkway, I have and will continue to forcefully advocate the prohibition of illegal camping in the parkway.
It is a glaring omission that in The Bee's promotion of public databases and working groups to address parkway fires, it completely ignores the greatest fire threat there is: illegal homeless camps.
The county of Sacramento will continue to enforce the parkway's sunrise-to-sunset hours; we will continue to enforce the ban on illegal camps; we will continue to perform warrant sweeps; and we will continue to have sheriff's work crews regularly pick up trash and debris along the lower reach of the parkway.
Along with these enforcement measures, our Department of Human Assistance social workers will continue joining law enforcement to direct folks to local shelters, provide information about alcohol and drug recovery programs, offer motel vouchers for homeless families and provide information about mental health resources. Personally, I'll continue fundraising to expand shelter space, especially during the winter months.
With all of that said, however, we must do more.
And as I have stated many times when addressing the subject of homelessness in general and illegal camping in particular, we have to apply a comprehensive approach. We can't simply move homeless people off the parkway without doing what we can to enhance the availability of services that help them change their circumstance.
That means ensuring the new homeless "continuum of care," administered by the local nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward, succeeds in its mission to manage precious federal funds to house and serve homeless populations. But as The Bee rightfully points out, it also means that the county of Sacramento must appropriately prioritize protection of the American River Parkway.
The next opportunity for all of us to help make progress toward that goal is during our final budget hearings in September. Should the county executive conclude we have the ability to restore some county services, the recent parkway fires should serve as a reminder that we only have a handful of county park rangers to oversee thousands of acres, and that in addition to restoring other important services, we must restore and fortify our park ranger force.
Parkway advocates, users and anyone else interested in protecting such a community asset should note that final budget hearings begin the week of Sept. 9. This will be your time and mine to emphasize the need to protect our parkway from illegal camping and further destruction from fire by supporting the call for more county park rangers.
Phil Serna represents District 1 on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.