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Urgent meeting called to deal with homeless camps, fire dangers and relocation options

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After numerous fires in and around homeless camps in the last several months, an urgent meeting agenda item has been added to tonight's Santa Barbara City Council meeting.

Councilmembers Mike Jordan and Eric Friedman urged Mayor Cathy Murillo to add it to the weekly agenda. It will be a 6 p.m. time certain item.

Public and staff comments will be taken.

The councilmembers are especially concerned about encampment locations and the high fire threat many of them present.

Often they are in the brushy areas along Highway 101 on and off ramps, the CalTrans / Union Pacific right of way and along Mission Creek.

Recent fires have destroyed vegetations, burned a parked vehicle, caused damage to private businesses and forced train service to be stopped for firefighting. There's also been impacts on commuter traffic on the freeway while firefighters attack flames.

During the COVID crisis certain state and federal guidelines on moving the homeless have been in place limiting the ability of the local government to act upon the campsite violations.

Some cleanups have taken place, but tents have been allowed to remain.

Residents near some of the campsites have reported many calls for service to police, fire and medics in 2020 and early 2021.

Last year, near Arrellaga St. and a Highway 101 camp, a suspect was arrested after being linked to numerous burglaries in the nearby neighborhood. Evidence was found at his campsite.

A fire in a homeless camp by the Bath St / Highway 101 exit burned vegetation next to multiple sweeper units parked for overnight service, and nearby occupied buildings.

Some debris from homeless camps has also blown on to the freeway forcing drivers to avoid contact or swerve dangerously.

Drivers have also reported to the CHP near hits with transients walking or riding their bikes across ramps and lanes to get to their camps. One of the most dangerous areas has been northbound Hwy 101 at Garden Street.

Article Topic Follows: Safety

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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