Riverside bans camping in Santa Ana River bed, other fire-prone areas – San Bernardino Sun

Confronted with a crushing homelessness crisis that consistently ranks at the top of residents’ concerns, Riverside officials moved Tuesday night, Aug. 2, to ban camping and storing property in areas prone to fires and floods.

The Riverside City Council voted 6-1 to approve an ordinance that makes it illegal “for any person to sit, lie, sleep, or store, use, maintain, or place any bulky item or personal property” in so-called wildland urban interface areas where neighborhoods rub up against natural areas. These include the Santa Ana River bed, Hole Lake and Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park.

City Council Member Clarissa Cervantes voted no, city spokesperson Phil Pitchford said Wednesday, Aug. 3.

The measure has been in the works for months and is intended to aid a team anchored by 16 police officers, two police sergeants, eight outreach workers and two fire captains that is being assembled as part of a $5.8 million program to move people out of river-bed encampments and into shelters or housing. About one month ago, the council adopted a five-year plan for addressing homelessness.

The plan’s rollout also follows a county decision in spring to ban outdoor burning because of the drought and high fire danger.

Against the backdrop of soaring home prices and increasing conflict between residents and people living on the street, encampments have spread in the wildland areas along the city’s edges. Residents and officials have said that trend is of particular concern in the fire-prone river area where blazes routinely break out and threaten nearby houses. Some wildfires were started by cooking and warming fires that got away from people camped there.

According to a city report, the Riverside Fire Department has battled 163 brush fires in the river bottom in the past five years, two-thirds of them caused by people. Between 2017 and this year, city firefighters also fought 12 wildfires in Sycamore Canyon, four in the Hawarden Hills and one in the La Sierra Hills, the report stated. Most of those blazes were started by people as well.

Riverside County point-in-time counts found 587 homeless people in the city of Riverside in winter 2020 and 514 last winter. Much of the city’s unhoused population is concentrated in wildland areas.

In summer and fall 2021, outreach teams found 52 homeless encampments in the wildland urban interface areas, with 39 located within the city’s boundaries and 13 just outside, the report states.

Council Member Erin Edwards said earlier that the city isn’t looking to just authorize “policing the homeless,” but has put together “a comprehensive plan to address a humanitarian crisis.”

City officials said they intend to comply with a key federal appeals court ruling involving Boise, Idaho, that bars cities from uprooting people camped on public property if there aren’t shelters and other places for them to go, while permitting municipalities to prescribe limits for the places and times in which people may sleep on public land.

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