Photo Courtesy of the Office of Nury Martinez

Municipal cleanup crews began a third sweep Monday, Nov. 5, through homeless encampments in the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, an area here in the San Fernando Valley that has long been ripe for wildfires and has been the scene of two recent blazes.

The target area of Monday’s cleanup was a roughly 13-acre area along Bull Creek next to Lake Balboa, and was expected to continue throughout the week. Officials called the removal a public-safety effort, noting that encampments have sprouted in the basin and created a dangerous situation for their inhabitants, as well as visitors to the park and nearby residents. 

In its latest report early this year, the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA) indicated the homeless numbers are increasing at an alarming rate, with 57,794 people homeless in the county compared to 46,874 reported in 2016.  

While the homeless are typically labeled as addicts or being mentally ill, Mayor Eric Garcetti has acknowledged that soaring rents and the city’s high cost of living have played a part in putting people out into the street. Many homeless go undetected and are working poor, with about a fourth of them sleeping in their cars if they are fortunate enough to have one. 

The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol asked LA Councilmember Nury Martinez’ office, via email, where those people removed from the Sepulveda Basin would go and if pushing them out of one area would simply cause them to form another encampment elsewhere. 

Martinez’ office did not respond by press time.  

According to the California Housing Partnership, average rents in LA County have increased by 32% since 2000, while average household incomes have fallen. People have found themselves spending 70% or more of their income on rent, leaving little for food or other bills or family essentials.

The funding and  construction of low income housing cannot meet the need. Meanwhile, a second recent recall effort of Garcetti over the homeless issue has been launched. 

Alex Datig, head of The Committee to Recall Mayor Eric Garcetti, must collect 315,724 signatures of registered city voters in favor of the recall by Feb. 6, according to the City Clerk’s Office.

“I’m very, very confident,” Datig told City News Service about whether her group would be able to garner the signatures. “We’re either going to get them or we’re not. It all depends on the community.”

The petition was officially approved for circulation on Nov. 1. Garcetti must step down as mayor at the end of 2022 due to term limits.

Datig said she wants to help the homeless in any way, and that she’s sympathetic to their plight due to the state’s high cost of living, especially in cities like Los Angeles.

“People don’t understand how fragile our communities are,” Datig said. “We have to stop putting so much shame into being poor. In California, we know it’s not necessarily someone’s fault if they don’  have any money. We need the people who can jump in.”

While no one claims to have a definitive solution for LA’s homeless, Martinez is vowing to continue the cleanup.

“Today is part of an extensive cleanup on city of Los Angeles-leased property at the Sepulveda Basin that began in August and will continue until completed,” said Martinez, who represents area. “The city has a duty to ensure that park hours are enforced and the Basin remains safe and accessible to all visitors.”

The most recent fire in the area occurred Oct. 24, burning about 60 acres. Another fire burned 10 acres in July, days before the first scheduled cleanup, with some propane tanks spotted in the burn area, increasing the danger for fire crews.

“The recent fires are a reminder that we need to keep this effort going to protect the safety of everyone,” Martinez said. “We continue to work with state and federal authorities for their approval to clean other areas of the basin, which are under their jurisdiction.”

During the first cleanup in August, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Bomb Squad was called in when a grenade was discovered. The second phase took place along five acres in Haskell Creek in September.

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and LA Family Housing, the Department of Recreation and Parks, park rangers, the Bureau of Sanitation and Environment, CARE and CARE-Plus teams, and the LAPD have been involved with the cleanup and outreach efforts.

The first two Basin cleanups removed more than 391 tons of trash and green waste from the basin, authorities said.

The reserve is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks leases a majority of the reserve as park space.

The city is working with the Corps of Engineers and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department to secure approvals to clean a fourth area, 34 acres along Encino Creek. That cleanup will include brush removal and requires permit approvals, which could start as soon as December or early 2020, Martinez said.