Valley News -

By Bob Magee
Lake Elsinore City Councilman 

What's Governor Jerry Brown's plan for homelessness?


Last updated 4/27/2018 at 9:14am

For one of the biggest proponents of social engineering, Gov. Jerry Brown has been strangely silent on the issue of homelessness. You have to have been off the grid yourself not to see the effects of our governor's policies now popping up in little tent cities all across our once proud state. The images of the Santa Ana River encampment and the tons of waste removed and thousands of discarded needles should have been enough to drive Brown out of his ivory tower and down to Southern California to protect a beautiful and vital waterway but nothing was heard from him. The same story is playing out everywhere; local government officials left to address a huge problem of mostly formerly institutionalized people who are living in and destroying natural areas. Natural areas that we in local government are mandated by the state to protect.

A year ago, I showed drone footage of homeless encampments along our lakeshore and how rising waters carried their trash, debris and human excrement into the lake. The result was a sheen or oil slick that lingered at our lake's northwestern edge for days. I shared this finding with five representatives from the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife and was told, "We don't engage the homeless." If a 16-year-old is on the lakeshore with a fishing rod – no license and a dog off the leash, the fine from Fish and Wildlife would be several hundred dollars. But a band of homeless campers, polluting our wetlands and trespassing on private and public lands, does not warrant any attention. It results in no warning, no penalty and no offer of assistance. It is as if they do not exist or have become a de facto protected species in Brown's California. While the state routinely tests the water quality in Lake Elsinore, calling it an impaired water body that we must improve, they do nothing to help us protect it.

The Center for Biological Diversity recently announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for failing to protect public waterways and lakes. This move is strange since the federal game wardens routinely enforce anti-camping, campfire prohibitions and littering laws in the Cleveland National Forest. While their counterparts on the valley floor do nothing. No environmental lawsuits will be filed against the Brown Administration, because it doesn't fit the "green" narrative.

How did we get to this point? How did we get from creating the California Environmental Quality Act to ignoring the wanton degradation of our environment by an ever-growing segment of our society? In Brown's California, we have money for a bullet train – or at least a portion of one. We have money to sue the federal government over our "right" to be a sanctuary state. We were able to absorb a higher state income tax, a higher gas tax, a higher car tax and even a tax on marijuana, which Brown also wants to fight about with the Trump Administration. Brown fought for and signed a law allowing driver's licenses for undocumented residents – over 1 million such licenses have now been issued. However, nothing for the homeless, aka urban outdoorsmen, that his policies have created.

Brown supported Assembly Bill 109, which pushed felons out of the state prison system and back to local county jails that are now bursting at the seams. He also supported Propositions 47 and 57, which were strangely marketed to California voters as "Safe Neighborhoods California," decriminalizing many drug-related felonies to misdemeanors and limiting the number of violent crimes that qualify as felonies. Under the old three-strikes program many career criminals were put away for good once they demonstrated that they refused to live by society's rules. The infamous story of a felon going to jail for life when his third strike was stealing a piece of pizza is now gone. Sadly, in Brown's California, you could steal a whole pizza and throw the trash in a protected waterway, and it would amount to nothing more than a misdemeanor or a "cite and release," even if you used a weapon. Do you feel safer?

Many argued that three strikes was too aggressive and unforgiving. Well how many strikes do you need? I've never used even one. As a taxpayer, I have a green sticker for my off-road toys, a fishing license for fishing and my dogs are vaccinated, microchipped and altered. My vehicles are registered and insured; my home is covered with earthquake insurance and I've been working two jobs for the past 14 years in order to pay for all that and provide medical insurance for my family. But, if I chose the urban outdoorsman lifestyle, I could give all that up.

A typical day for the urban outdoorsman begins when code enforcement or police officers request that they leave their unpermitted campsite. Trespassing is still a crime, but not one worthy of incarceration. The campers move on to one of the local faith-based or nonprofit kitchens to receive their morning meal, and it's off to work – panhandling. The kind souls in California still respond to the signs, which back in the old days said, "Will Work for Food." Today there is no such pretense about working in Brown's California. The signs usually include a message consistent with the latest victimology designed to inspire sympathy – and it works. If it didn't work, they would have moved on. Once the money has been made – begged for – the urban outdoorsman usually uses the cash to secure either drugs or alcohol. Food, clothing and even tents are supplied by a large group of well-intentioned folks who serve to enable the vast majority of these campers. By the end of the day, work crews have cleaned up the campsites the urban outdoorsmen were forced out to leave. They return after a sort of taxpayer-funded concierge service. While we don't turn down the covers or put a mint on the pillow, the result is the same. A fresh clean campsite, with a new tent, new clothes, cash, spirits and whatever else. As the sun sets, they are free to light their campfires while the rest of us must observe the state's air quality restrictions for no-burn days. No such rules exist for the urban outdoorsman.

As a member of the state board of fire services representing all 482 California cities, I requested that the state fire marshall work with the board to change the current no-contact policy for CalFire when it comes to homeless campfires. That's right, the very campfires that are routinely responsible for millions of dollars of property damage and ecological destruction are not extinguished by the state's fire fighting force, if those fires are cited as the only source of heat for the urban outdoorsman. To date, no change in policy has been brought forward.

If homelessness were a business, Brown would regulate it, tax it and chase it out of the state. Arizona, Nevada and Texas have all reaped the rewards of his overreaching government policies. Meanwhile, Californians struggle to keep the American Dream of homeownership alive, while maintaining a roof over their heads. Environmental regulations, rising public safety and public employee pension costs and fees on top of fees have driven the cost of housing ever skyward. My new neighbors have found their own solution – 13 people living in one single-family home. All eight adults get up and go to work each day; they have eight vehicles and five children that all attend school. They have found a way to make it work here, and this strategy may in fact become the new normal in Brown's California.

So what can local government do? I get sick of hearing the pundits say we do nothing. Four years ago with the support of my colleagues, I led an effort to stop the feedings in our city park. I attended a program called "Cops & Clergy" and asked the faith-based community to do their good works from their church properties and not on the public's properties, so that the taxpayers could use our park again. I worked to form a new nonprofit called the Pathway Project designed to give a hand up, not a hand out. However, what we discovered is that the hand out is truly all the vast majority of homeless want. I confronted trespassers – chasing down the infamous white vans – delivering food, tents and clothing to our lakeshore, asking that they work within our system rather than enabling this environmentally destructive behavior and creating a mess that our taxpayers have to clean up. In addition, I submitted an invoice for cleanup costs to one of those well-meaning organizations and asked that they share the load with the taxpayers. They, of course, declined. Our city even formed a Homeless Task Force that meets on this issue regularly.

The problem is much larger now than ever before, and we are literally creating two Californias. One for those that follow the rules, work hard and pay taxes. And one for those that are exempt from the rules, refuse to work, pay for nothing and degrade our quality of life and our natural open spaces.

For those that want and need help, we Californians are more than willing to provide a hand up. But today the vast majority of the urban outdoorsmen are living this lifestyle by choice. As long as these current policies and laws remain in place, and as long as we see no leadership from the governor's office, local government and our taxpayers will continue to foot the bill to clean up these pollution-ridden homeless encampments. All while Brown sits on a huge budget surplus in Sacramento.

Back in the late 60s Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr. responded to Lake Elsinore's pleas for help and diverted water from the Colorado River to help the biology and economy of our valley. And it worked, we are home to over 200 species of birds; we have a healthy fishery and boast the largest and most diverse varieties of flora and fauna in the region – many of which are protected by state and federal laws. Now the latest protected species: the urban outdoorsman threatens all of that diversity.

Today, Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. won't even divert his motorcade to visit the new California he has worked so hard to engineer. Instead, he flies – at taxpayers' expense – to Paris to make environmental pronouncements, literally telling local elected: "let them eat cake."

Thanks to term limits, the voters can't hold Brown accountable anymore, but maybe history will.


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