Soapbox

Another View: Homeless lawsuit can’t get in way of safety on parkway

A homeless man rides his bike through the burned remains of grass and trees in Discovery Park along the American River Parkway on Aug. 12
A homeless man rides his bike through the burned remains of grass and trees in Discovery Park along the American River Parkway on Aug. 12 rpench@sacbee.com

The public has a right to a clean, safe American River Parkway. Marcos Breton rightly emphasizes this precept and asks the question “Where’s the outrage?” about recent fires suspected of starting in or around illegal campsites buried deep in the parkway (“A burning silence on river parkway,” Aug. 19).

I am outraged, as are my constituents, especially those living in neighborhoods next to the parkway, including north Sacramento, midtown and River Park. City Council members who represent these areas are likewise understandably outraged.

So yes, many of us are incensed. Unlike Howard Beale in the movie “Network,” however, we must do more than yell: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Even before the most recent fires, I had suggested we do things differently enforcing the parkway camping ban. It really comes down to a simple question: Does a 2009 settlement trump Sacramento County’s fundamental responsibility to protect the public and the parkway?

Breton alludes to this in his column, but it deserves a little more explanation. The agreement – a result of a lawsuit against the county in part for failing to catalog homeless individuals’ possessions – stipulates that county personnel cannot immediately remove unoccupied homeless encampments, and must instead post a citation explaining to absentee campers that they have 48 hours to remove their belongings.

The problem here should be obvious. Illegal campers just move to another part of the parkway to restart the enforcement clock. The result is that there are hundreds of people camping illegally in the parkway with open flame ignition sources (matches and lighters) and accelerants (lighter fluid and propane) surrounded by tinder-dry fuels such as native grasslands, brush, mature tree canopies and even plants that support protected species.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

With this understanding, I made my position clear to both the county’s CEO and counsel well before these latest fires. We need to challenge those elements of the settlement that effectively neutralize our ability to dissuade illegal camping on the American River Parkway, and that compromise our ability to protect public health, safety and well being. To do otherwise is to neglect our most important responsibility.

Phil Serna is chairman of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

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