YUBA COUNTY (CBS13) — The race is on to repair the damage to levees caused by homeless people in Yuba and Sutter Counties before the rainy season hits.
Despite federal law that prohibits moving the homeless unless they have somewhere to be housed, counties are taking action against the homeless who are digging out a spot to stay on the levees. They say with the rainy season weeks away they have to protect the integrity of these levees.
Authorities have already repaired a six-foot by two-foot hole dug by the homeless in a Yuba County levee. They say encampments along levees there and in Sutter County are wearing away flood protection for the entire river region.
“Every local government jurisdiction is looking for a fix. The community wants reasonable rules,” Chuck Smith, Sutter County spokesperson, said.
This week, Sutter County joined Yuba County in enacting an urgency camping ordinance. They say code enforcement is focused on education, not enforcement.
The laws are similar: camping is prohibited on private property without owner’s permission, park grounds or trails, county property between sunrise and sunset, and below the high water mark along the levee.
Authorities say it’s a safety issue especially with the rainy season coming. They have already rescued the homeless before.
Russ Brown with Yuba County said, “We have had one instance at two o’clock in the morning where we had an officer injured during a swift water rescue.”
And after spending hundreds of millions of dollars shoring up levees, they want to protect their integrity.
Russ Brown said, “Think about the Oroville Spillway where water caught that one piece and water started chopping away at it until it’s a gaping hole. That could happen with levees when water starts rising on their banks.”
This isn’t the first time we have seen levees being compromised in Northern California. Earlier this year in Sacramento, we saw several incidents where homeless were carving out campsites on levees, digging out parts to flatten the ground for their tents.
The ordinance also bans the storing of personal property in any area where camping is prohibited.
“We spoke with some homeless living along the river who didn’t want to be identified.
“It’s not a life for everyone,” said a guy named Tim.
They worry the new camping law will disrupt those struggling to survive on the streets.
“There’s not enough programs out there so when they tell you where you have to camp it affects how we live,” he said.
Authorities say this is a serious safety issue that could lead to flooding for homeowners across the area. Both counties say it’s a complex issue, but their efforts have resulted in a decrease in the number of homeless with 721 now estimated in the area.
Additionally, they say these are just stop-gap measures effective immediately until a permanent ordinance can be passed.