Two police officers at City Council meeting.
Lompoc Police Officer Mauricio Calderon stands by on Tuesday as Chief Pat Walsh explains about his new role as Lompoc’s homeless liaison officer. (Janene Scully / Noozhawkk photo)

The city of Lompoc’s plan for removing homeless residents and their elaborate encampments from the Santa Ynez Riverbed includes issuing eviction notices and setting up a triage center in part of River Park, with the notices issued as soon as this week.

On Tuesday, Police Chief Pat Walsh and Deputy City Manager Laura Dubbels unveiled the detailed plan crafted in conjunction with other agencies and social services groups for handling the complex issue.

After 45 minutes of discussion, the Lompoc City Council unanimously approved the proposal, including $21,000 for police costs.

“I think the plan is a very good plan and it has to be done,” Mayor Bob Lingl said.

Citing numerous health and safety concerns, city leaders will evict residents from approximately 60 to 75 encampments in the riverbed area along the border of the city in a plan that has been discussed for months.

“We’re trying not to get sued,” Walsh said. “We’re also trying to help them, and that’s where the triage center will come in.”

The effort has included the appointment of a homeless liaison, Lompoc police Officer Maurcio Calderon, who has started interacting with riverbed residents. 

“There is hope,” Walsh said, adding that recent efforts have connected 10 homeless residents with family or support groups. “It’s working.”

In addition to the current occupied encampments, there are also vacant encampments where large amounts of garbage remain.

“My view is the camps are bad. There’s decades worth of stuff,” Walsh said, adding that overgrown brush makes it easy to camouflage camps.

Sign for Lompoc park.

Lompoc’s plan for evicting people from the Santa Ynez Riverbed, approved Tuesday by the City Council, calls for creating a triage center at the city’s River Park. (Janene Scully / Noozhawkk photo)

The plan calls for opening a temporary homeless triage center on Sept. 10 in River Park to get riverbed residents the help they need to transition into regular housing.

It also calls for cleaning up and removing encampments, along with providing ongoing enforcement to prevent homeless people from returning to the riverbed.

Illegal residences in the riverbed have led to a number of public safety issues.

From Jan. 1 to July 11, Lompoc police officers were dispatched to 137 calls for service regarding the homeless throughout the city and riverbed.

Additionally, the Lompoc Fire Department has responded to numerous fires as well in the riverbed, already tallying 12 incidents in the first seven months of the year. This is significantly higher than previously with four in 2014 and 2016, seven in 2015, and 13 in 2017.

To help the homeless find new places to live, multiple agencies will participate in the triage center, with representatives from assorted agencies including Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness and other departments, Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Center, Home for Good, Planting a Seed and Good Samaritan Shelter.

Once it opens, the triage center in a fenced area of River Park will serve as a site for residents to temporarily stay with locked storage provided for their belongings while agreeing to get the social services assistance leading to permanent housing.

Although city staff initially proposed closing River Park during the effort, the plan will keep recreational campers in place and close a portion of the site.

Those who refuse to leave the riverbed face trespassing citations. Their belongings will be removed and stored. 

This effort won’t be cheap. The Police Department estimates overtime costs at $21,000.

Another $40,000 will be needed for the triage center, with funding for that dependent upon community donations and participation from partners. Santa Barbara County also has been asked to help, and grants will be sought.

Removing debris and dealing with other clean up would add to the price tag, but the number remains uncertain for now.

City leaders also called for the community to help, adding tax-deductible donations may be given to Trinity Church of the Nazarene‘s Micah Mission, with checks payable to Micah Mission and mailed to P.O. Box 1115, Lompoc, CA 93438. Donors should indicate the money is for the Hope for the Homeless program.

“We don’t have a solid figure on this, but we need help,” Lingl said, adding that the effort would be “good for Lompoc.”

“One of the things that’s not in here is the cost if we don’t do this,” Councilman Jim Mosby said.

In the past year, the riverbed community has seen several deaths, including one homicide during a fight between two residents. The suspect was found in the city and fatally wounded during an officer-involved shooting.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.