The seals and sea lions bark, the channel marker clangs, as I look from my window at the end of Lighthouse Way. A full moon bathes the sea in diamonds as Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” comes to mind and view.
I have been blessed to live here, atop the ridge closest to our fair city’s signature landmark, Battery Point Lighthouse, since this past September. Daily, I walk Jake, my rescue dog, down the beach to the east, then up and back on the pier. During those months, as with all of my neighbors, we felt a collective heartache at the desecration of one of the most beautiful areas in our community.
During those months, we watched as the beach encampments below grew — nothing related to an L.L. Bean or Cabella’s ad — but a malignancy that paid no heed to numerous attempts by our city to rectify and deal with the situation.
Three separate encampments, lumped together, much of them hidden by the thick, tall brush and foliage allowed numerous persons, homeless or otherwise, I know not, to live there, month after month, unabated.
I have taken food to these people and upon speaking to Daily Bread Ministries Director Mike Justice, arranged during the worst of our recent inclement and violent weather for those “campers” to have shelter and food at that facility. Each and every time, those offers were declined or flat out refused.
On several occasions, the persons below, said in no uncertain terms, that the recent Ninth Circuit case of Martin, et al, v. City of Boise stood for the proposition that those campers could not be removed. Indeed, our highly sensitive city authorities and council have placed great weight upon that decision in extended deliberations as to how to craft a city ordinance to protect our beautiful beachfront, while failing to tread upon the rights of the homeless.
While avoiding a debate on the import of Martin v. City of Boise, that case stood for the singular proposition, as the Court stated, “…that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment bars a city from prosecuting people criminally for sleeping outside on public property when those people have no home or other shelter to go to. We conclude that it does.”
At no time were the persons living and maintaining those squalid campsites ever, from my percipient view, threatened with “prosecuting people criminally” for sleeping in those encampments. Again, Daily Bread Ministries allowed me to offer transportation to their shelter if need dictated. Again, such offers were declined.
Somewhere lost in the conversation was the fact that this was not a homeless matter and the community surrounding those encampments were not a bunch of NIMBYS (Not In My Backyard). What was offensive was not the great unwashed or persons sadly visited with the condition of being poor, which no person should ever be persecuted for.
Months ago, on a nightly basis, you could hear the yelling and screaming of the most vile vulgarities. On one occasion, I witnessed the man involved leg whip his girlfriend across the knees, brutally knocking her to the ground. The police diligently responded, only to find the attacker having run down the beach, returning later in the nighttime.
Campfires routinely burned, many times inside of the huge tarp enclosures that had been erected upon the beach front. Garbage was routinely burned, the residue left to blow away down the beach.
Only last week, during one of our most violent thunderstorms, as temperatures plummeted, sending the campers to other places they had access to, I walked throughout the three encampments. I found eight empty gallons of cheap whiskey, rusting shopping carts and lounge chairs and garbage strewn throughout the camps’ interiors, as well as on the beach, in full view of any person, child or tourists who had decided to view one of our county’s most beautiful natural attractions.
I found spoiled and rotting food along with meth pipes and used syringes. I watched as CCPD officers patiently tried to reason with them into cleaning up the area they were defiling. All to no avail, while just three days ago, I watched a cane-flailing fight between two of the campers who had engaged in a fight over whose clothes were whose.
My point being the situation at the Battery Point Vista beach, for all of the reasons enumerated above, is distinguishable from Martin’s purview. Directly on point is the fact that no person, homeless or otherwise, has some right to violate city, county and state ordinances as they regard assault and battery, possession of drug paraphernalia, domestic violence, health and safety code violations, theft, building fires, littering and many other violations that created both civil and criminal nuisances. For all of those continued and perpetual violations of established ordinances and state codes, remedial action was not only militated, but demanded.
And, thanks to the combined efforts of numerous departments, working together, the situation was addressed and lawfully brought to an end Thursday morning.
As I proceeded on my walk with Jake, early that morning, the first thing I noticed was a large fire engine arriving. And then a front loader and a backhoe. Then a legion of state parks and city maintenance workers accompanying a work crew, generously provided by Pelican Bay, all armed with chain saws, rakes, shovels and hundreds of industrial trash bags.
At the top of the ridge, officers from CCPD, directed by Chief Ivan Minsal, who throughout the months I’ve routinely seen here, assiduously responding to all of the complaints emanating from those encampments.
Indeed, on several occasions, I’ve watched as his officers attempted to reason with the people camping there at the ocean’s shore. I can’t speak for Chief Minsal but have watched him over the past week personally monitoring the area and situation. And, I have to express our neighborhood’s deepest gratitude for his seeing beyond the limited stricture of the Martin case and having the foresight to see and deal with a matter that plainly and simply constituted violations of established law, devoid of any characterization of the offenders.
Upon my thanking Chief Minsal, he stated that the clean-up of the beach camps occurred through a confluence of efforts which included city parks and maintenance and CCPD. Also, much gratitude goes out to Supervisor Roger Gitlin who has been indefatigable in his fight against blight and particularly the Battery Point situation.
As Gitlin, myself and a host of community members gathered to thank all of the men who cleaned up the entire area, removing literally tons of garbage, burn pile residue, rotting clothes, tarps and brush, I had the privilege of meeting and thanking Senior Parks and Building Maintenance Director, Dustin Lovdahl. His comments, eloquent and prescient, were these:
“I feel that in our beautiful small community, it is not just our obligation as city workers, but our privilege to be able to keep our city beautiful. I truly believe in a community of people that are willing to do certain things to work together and keep the progression of our city moving forward. In doing so, we as parks workers look at each other as a brotherhood of people that are here to keep our city beautiful by choice. This is not just a job, this is our home and as such, we really try on a daily basis to work as hard as possible to fulfill that obligation.”
In those brief words, Lundahl sums up the gist of this message of gratitude. Simply, when all of the oars in the boat row together as one, the storms encountered may be overcome. To which, all I may add is… Amen
Jon Alexander lives in Crescent City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org