Bidwell Park, once an asset, now a liability

26 Jan

Almost 15 years ago, my family bought this old crapper near Bidwell Park.  It had extensive rot, termite damage, needed a completely new roof – but, that was our business when we were young, buying old houses for cheap and working to make them into homes.

We went through all our permit inspections, and moved in. It was two years before the assessor came over to inspect – I believe he waited for the “McMansions” that had been permitted down the street to be built out, so he could use them in evaluating our house.

He showed up in my yard, with his clipboard. He asked to be let in the house, but I told him he’d have to come over when my husband was home – he was asking me technical questions I couldn’t answer, and some of the questions seemed inappropriate.

One thing he told me was that Bidwell Park would figure prominently in our assessment. Living so close to such a jewel was considered a great asset at that time. Oh yeah, Old Fred, he stuck us goooooood!

We have had a good life here, raising our kids in the house up front, and then moving into the little apartment we built over the garage since my husband retired and our kids moved off to their own homes. We have tenants up front now, raising their kids in the same house where we raised ours, how appropriate for us.

Unfortunately, nowadays, the park is neither a jewel nor an asset. I’ve spoken at length here about illegal camping, vandalism and theft in the Bidwell Park corridor. Well, here’s why – my family has invested everything we own in this part of town, and we’re watching our assets devalued every day by their association with Bidwell Park.

The other day one of my tenants who also lives within this neighborhood asked us to put up more security lights in her driveway. These lights aren’t free, the cheapest crap on the market is about $30, and we have to maintain them, including provide batteries.

But I don’t blame her, she’s only a  couple of blocks from the CARD center, where a young woman overdosed herself on heroin the other night. She’s only a couple of blocks from Mangrove Plaza, a transient hot spot.  There have been car break-ins within doors of her house. One of her near neighbors just dramatically pruned a row of shrubs because transients were using his hedgerow, right outside his front windows,  for a toilet.

To think, when I’ve advertised that rental, I’ve used Bidwell Park, Mangrove Plaza, and the Downtown area as selling points. Now I don’t know what to say – “15 minute walk to Bum Town!”

So I’ve tried to do what good citizens are supposed to do – I’ve reported the same stuff I’ve been posting on this blog to Chico PD, who sent me to the public works department. I was told I was a good citizen and my reports of crime are appreciated, but that’s where it stopped. Now I find the system is set up to encourage camping in the park. This old post by local blogger Jack Lee just about sums it up:

http://www.norcalblogs.com/postscripts/2014/04/01/camp-sites-okd-bidwell-park/

Here’s what happens when you report illegal campsites in Bidwell Park:

Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 8:43 AM
To: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk <mkirk@buttecounty.net>; Mark Sorensen <mark.sorensen@Chicoca.gov>
Subject: illegal campers in lower park

 

 Hi,  Yesterday  I reported an extensive and well-established illegal camp located along the “Fitness Trail”, between Stations 3 and  4 and the park road, to a park division employee. She told me she would alert park rangers. I saw five tents, an e-z-up, and mounds of trash.  As of this morning, it’s all still there, and there’s more trash. Is the city actively pursuing citizen’s complaints about illegal  camping? 

 Juanita Sumner

 

From: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 9:58 AM
To: Juanita Sumner
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk; Mark Sorensen
Subject: RE: illegal campers in lower park

 

Ms. Sumner,    Again, thank you for your reporting of this.   As additional follow-up, I can tell you that the Park Rangers did engage with this group yesterday, after the report was received.   Additionally, the Rangers have engaged and ticketed this group of illegal campers several times over the past week.  The Park Rangers are coordinating with the Police Department for follow-up today for this specific illegal encampment.  

Respectfully,
Mark

 

Sent: Sunday, January 1, 2017 4:24 PM
To: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk <mkirk@buttecounty.net>; Mark Sorensen <mark.sorensen@Chicoca.gov>
Subject: Thanks

 

Hi Mr. Orme,   When we went to Bidwell Park this morning  to inspect the illegal campsites we reported to you last week, we were happy to see the trash piles we’d encountered the past few days had been collected. Thank you for your quick action on this illegal campsite, I believe a quick response is necessary to discourage repeat offenders. We walk in that area and other areas of the park every day and will continue to notify you of any illegal activities we see anywhere on city property.

 Thank you for your due diligence to this matter, which is, of course, central to keeping Chico a beautiful city.

 Juanita Sumner

From: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Sent: Sunday, January 1, 2017 7:55 PM
To: Juanita Sumner
Cc: dlittle@chicoer.com; Maureen Kirk; Mark Sorensen
Subject: RE: Thanks

 

Thank you for your follow-up Ms. Sumner.   Much of the credit goes to City staff for their effective approach.  However, the best means of allowing staff to succeed is for aware and willing residents to inform the City of these types of issues – so many thanks to you. 

 Have a good evening,

Mark

Sent:Wednesday, January 18, 2017 6:33 AM
To: Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: Mark Sorensen <mark.sorensen@Chicoca.gov>; Maureen Kirk <mkirk@buttecounty.net>
Subject: Re: Thanks

Hi,    Yesterday morning walking in Bidwell Park, my husband found a group in a tent, right on the main trail there near Bryant and Vallombrosa. As he stood on the trail taking a picture a woman confronted him. He told her he’d be calling the police – when he came back that way the tent and occupants were gone. I do have pictures of the tent  posted on my blog.   I’m beginning to question the safety of walking in Bidwell Park in broad daylight. We live only about two blocks away. My tenants constantly worry about their car being broken into since our neighbors had a break-in across the street. My son who lives at another one of our rentals nearby had someone break into his car to rifle his glove compartment, and then use the car as a block while they defecated in the driveway off my son’s front door.  His neighbor, a retired law enforcement officer and former director of Torres Shelter, had her car broken into several months ago – window smashed out.  We believe the park is central to these problems, that these people are sheltering in the park and then predating our neighborhoods. 

  I know you guys discussed more staffing at Chico PD last night – when can we expect regular, morning and evening sweeps of the park?

 Thanks, at your convenience, for your reply – Juanita Sumner

LATER that day…

Ms. Sumner,

 Thank you again for your input.  I’ve cc’d the Police Chief and Public Works Director over Operations on this e-mail, as they may have additional feedback to give.  I can tell you that staff is evaluating every opportunity to move forward with an effort to deal with this situation more aggressively.  One potential program we are working on is furthering the bond between our public works team and the Police department.  They already have a great working relationship, but we’re looking at a creative approach to securing an even smoother ability to deal with these park issues.  It will roll out during the budget process.  As for now, the Police Department and Public Works will continue to monitor and conduct sweeps on a regular basis…although not as often as staff would like to be able to do, simply due to resource constraints. 

Have a great day,

Mark

Here’s where Police Chief Mike O’Brien and Officer Scott Zuchin came into the conversation. O’Brien contacted me on January 18.

“Both the Rangers and our Police Officers move campers out of the Park, but it is helpful to have the specifics as to when and where.  I am including Interim Lieutenant Scott Zuschin in this email and would ask that you reach out to him specifically with the specifics of the camping sites.  I/Lt. Zuschin oversees our Target Team, as well as coordinating with our Rangers in dealing with issues in our city parks.  I will have him coordinate to address these issues.”

The conversation went completely off track at that point because I had cc’d Third District Supervisor Maureen Kirk, and she brought up concerns about her own neighborhood, Cal Park. I casually mentioned to her that I’d seen a tent off Hwy 32 near Cal Park. That got Zuchin off on the wrong track from the get-go. Zuchin responded to Kirk’s concerns, 

“Greetings… The Target team linked up with realtor Tamara Lambert-Valencia from Coldwell Banker DuFour to address the encampment issue near the water tower located inside the new Oak Valley subdivision two weeks ago. This camp is no longer an issue. Target will continue to work with the realtor and developer as crime and safety issues arise. Please give me a call. I can arrange a neighborhood meeting with the Target team to discuss your questions and concerns.”

I was stupid enough to argue with a cop – I had to tell him I’d just seen the dam-ned tent the previous day. At this point I started to detect a little impatience on his part.

Please be more specific then. We may not be speaking about the same location. You may attach photographs to your email if that helps.

I responded with clear directions to the tent, which was set up next to a little creek running alongside the new water tower and subdivision below it. I didn’t get any follow-up. When I sent him photos of a homeless encampment in Bidwell Park the next day, I didn’t get any response.  I realize it was Saturday.   I had complained to O’Brien that there is no way to report illegal camping online, and we’re told the phone is for emergencies, so he gave me Zuchin, who’s only available Monday through Friday 9 – 5. 

So I forwarded that request to Mark Orme the following Monday, asking for follow-up. I told him the campers were still there as of that morning. This was January 23. Orme did not respond to me personally but forwarded my request to Public Works staffer Erik Gustafson.

“Copy, I’ll forward to Rangers right away and have them connect with Sgt. Zuschin for notification status.  Thanks, Erik”

Later on Monday I heard from O’Brien.

“We are looking at Wednesday to have this resolved…PD and Parks are in contact to make it happen.”

By Tuesday, my husband had already noticed, the transients had moved their tents, leaving mounds of trash, including bike parts. I got another note from Gustafson,

“Good Morning.  Wanted to let you know that notice was posted at this particular location yesterday 1/24.  Per our notification terms, they have 48-hours to remove themselves and their property.  If cleanup is needed it will take place on Thursday 1/26.  This location will be included with several others and will be managed by a City Park Ranger, but performed by the inmate Alternative Custody Services (ACS) program.”

48 hours notice? I asked about that.

Thanks for the update.  I read the city code, camping without a permit is illegal. Could you give me a simple explanation, why we have to give these people 48 hours to vacate, especially when there is evidence of criminal activity, like bicycle parts laying all over the ground?  I would appreciate it if you could direct me to the written laws that cover this.

 Gustafson explained, “Good Morning.  The 48-hour notice is used for un-occupied encampments and is intended to give a short amount of time for folks to collect and remove their personal property.  It’s an internal policy based on City Attorney recommendation.  The City Attorney reviewed several cases that had been brought against larger Cities and recommended the notice term.  The term is intended to remove items in a timely fashion while still observing the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. “

Here’s the Fourth amendment:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Could anybody explain to me how the above protects someone from being ejected from an illegal campsite? Where does it say you can’t give somebody a ticket for an illegal activity? I’m not a lawyer, but I would say a ticket is proof of probable cause, and notification that your stuff is going to be seized if you refuse to leave or remove your belongings. In fact, the city could put signs up in these areas, saying that camping is illegal and personal belongings left on the premises will be seized and held for 30 days. That would cover the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Instead they warn these people again and again, cops pretending they don’t recognize the same person they warned for the same offense as little as eight hours previous.

Of course, this rule doesn’t seem to affect clean-up of abandoned sites. Look at some of the pictures I’ve posted – how do you decide, what’s trash, and what’s personal belongings? This all seems very discretionary to me.

Here’s the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1, which was the only section that applied even remotely to this situation: 

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Yes, it goes back to due process.  The essential problem here is that the city does not have “No Camping” signs or signs which explain the penalties of the ordinance. As far as I know, the city has no penalties for public camping, public defecation/urination, nudity, drug use on city property – none of it. 

In other words, Bidwell Park is open for camping. It’s a de-facto bum camp and they aren’t going to do anything about it.

When I get up the nerve, I’ll contact the assessor’s office and ask them when they will start giving exemptions for properties within close proximity to Bidwell Park.

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2 Responses to “Bidwell Park, once an asset, now a liability”

  1. Mark Stemen January 27, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    I understand and sympathize with your frustration. I have a similar situation with my mother-in-law’s old house.

    • .Juanita Sumner January 27, 2017 at 7:41 am #

      sell now!

      Just being flip. I think we’re talking about the same problem with the scrap yard – transients file into that neighborhood every morning because it’s the only recycling center left in town. Nobody wants to say it, but I think that’s really the problem.

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