VISTA — The homeless situation in the city is a massive challenge.
As such, the City Council approved an amendment to its Biological Preserve Overlay Zone ordinance to combat a sizable population of homeless using La Mirada Canyon as a residence.
The Biological Preserve Overlay Zone protects sensitive biological habitat in conjunction with the Multiple Habitat Conservation Plan. The BPO is 296 acres and is owned by the city.
The affected areas include a sports park near the Costco and BMW dealership by State Route 78 and La Mirada Canyon.
The amended BPO would further limit construction of shelters, sanitation devices, removing vegetation, capturing wildlife, human waste, using cooking systems and causing any illegal discharge to surface waters.
The council said it was not attempting to forcibly remove or ban the homeless, which would be left to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, but rather be proactive in combating the growing trash heaps in several areas, which affect the sensitive habitat and surface water.
One resident was concerned the city was effectively attempting to ban homeless. She said the city needs infrastructure to support the homeless before trying to remove them.
“Several of us have toured this land … it looks very much like you’d expect if you were visiting a landfill,” Deputy Mayor John Franklin said. “Many, many thousands of pounds of trash discarded. Huge quantities of unauthorized waste running off into the watershed. This initiative is really about protecting that land and the future effort to open this land.”
He added a future goal is to activate the land and allow residents access to the trails and other offerings.
Community Development and Engineering Director John Conley said the three main areas are of concern, but the primary concern is the canyon.
“As a result of unauthorized use in these areas that is increasing damage to sensitive habitat and water quality, staff is recommending some changes,” Conley said.
The city and sheriff’s office are offering homeless individuals services. Franklin said the condition of the homeless is unacceptable and it is incumbent for all elected and community leaders to work together.
“They need to access those services that are made available and they need to be in safe and sanitary living conditions,” he added. “The conditions they are in now are not fit for any animal or any human being. It is really a heartbreaking situation for any of us who have been there.”
Councilwoman Corinna Contreas said the item was more about homelessness, with the environment as a secondary concern. For enforcement, the city has only a few options mainly through its water management program and the sheriff’s office.
Councilman Joe Green had other concerns including potential lawsuits from environmentalists, the federal government and others for the condition of the watershed.
As for the sheriff’s office, those deputies are not arresting the homeless as part of the region-wide effort to offer help, services and secure identifications to get them into transitional housing.
“A lot of people are there because they don’t have IDs,” Green said. “Is this a homeless issue, is this an environmental issue? It’s a little bit of both. We need to work with them to solve this problem, but we do also have to protect our lands and our water that’s going into the ocean.”