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$1-Million temporary plan to reduce fire risks in homeless camps facing Santa Barbara leaders

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With the fear of a destructive or even worse, deadly, fire connected to homeless cooking or activities, Santa Barbara is considering an aggressive plan to relocate those living in the highest risk areas.

The council report says however, the cost for 50 persons to be sheltered and provided services, over 120 days, would be $1-Million. This will include security, sleeping areas, storage, showers, food, wellness assistance and relocation aid.

The funds will not be support by state or federal funds based on a staff analysis. That means it has to come out of the city's COVID stretched budget or from some other means.

Some early alternative actions have actively been including existing groups, non-profits and agencies already providing help for those in need, to be part of the program.

The city's cheapest land deal for a temporary site is a location it already owns. That would be the Castillo-Carrillo lot, the City Hall lot, or a site at the airport.

Other considerations such as the Sears property, now vacant at the La Cumbre Mall might look enticing, but that is privately owned and for now, the space has not been offered as a solution, or with a rental lease. In the last year, it was considered as an emergency site if the pandemic created an over flow at Cottage Hospital, but that plan was never carried out.

UPDATE: Tuesday the City Council said it favored using a hotel for the 50 rooms as the top priority. It asked staff to have a back up plan if that deal could not be worked out. A report will be presented in three weeks.

The Santa Barbara City Fire department has identified the locations where they have the highest fire concerns and homeless camps. This information will be used by councilmembers to determine the dangers and use it as a basis to declare an emergency to activate some rapid plans.

Fire Chief Chris Mailes and his investigation staff say the camps are often a threat to those living there, and those who live and work nearby when a fire breaks out. There have already been many fires that have burned public and private property, vehicles, and possessions.

Some are linked to cooking and some have been linked to drug manufacturing, mainly methamphetamine.

The fire department also says, some recent fires have been in locations where jurisdiction, fencing and access is an issue such as the Union Pacific railroad right of way and Cal Trans property. Delays in getting to a fire can also be a factor to its size and potential damage.

Within the camps, the city says there is a "large accumulation of paper,
cardboard, wood, plastic and discarded belongings" along with loose, uncontained
combustibles.

Some of the Union Pacific areas of concern have been near Castillo, Walnut Ave, Los Patos Way and Arrellaga.

Caltrans concerns have mainly been freeway on and off ramps at Hot Springs, Milpas St., Laguna St., Garden St., Bath Street, Castillo St., Carrillo St., Arrellaga, Mission St. and Las Positas Rd.

If a camp site is moved, the city also has in this plan a procedure to clean up the area and prevent it from being occupied by homeless tents again.

Watch tonight on NewsChannel 3-12, and KKFX Fox 11.

(More details, video and photos will be added here later today.)

Crime / Fire / Local Politics / Money and Business / Santa Barbara - South County / Video
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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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