The Yreka City Council passed an ordinance to prohibit camping in areas that would heighten fire risk, and is offering other “options” for the city’s unhoused population.
Homeless camps will no longer be allowed in public parks, watersheds, sidewalks and other forms of “critical infrastructure” in an effort to mitigate the threat of urban wildfires.
The council approved an “urgency” ordinance to curtail homeless camps — and the outdoor cooking and other fires that sometimes accompany them — from public lands, which can include proximity to schools, bus routes, and even creek areas. Working in tandem with the code, the city and county have set up alternative camping sites near the offices of Siskiyou County Behavioral Health Services.
“What the ordinance really does is give the city the ability to put out fires, and relocate people that are making encampments in places that cause danger to the city’s infrastructure, ” said Dohn Henion, Yreka city attorney.
“First and foremost, I think we need to keep our citizens safe from fire danger, ” said Mayor Duane Kegg, who helped to spearhead and draft the ordinance. “Our No . 1 concern is fire risk at this point in time. ”
Yreka hopes in order to head off tragedies like the Almeda Fire, which swept rapidly through an area between Medford, Ore., and nearby Ashland two years ago. The strong wind-driven fire consumed some 2, 600 homes and 600 businesses.
“One of the purposes of this ordinance is to mitigate the threat of fire and other potential causes of destruction and damage to critical infrastructure in wildfire risk locations, ” said City Manager Jason Ledbetter.
The ordinance was crafted to avoid legal challenges. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled cities cannot enforce laws prohibiting homeless camping on public property if the town doesn’t have adequate homeless facilities. The case, known as Martin v. Boise revolved around the undue financial burden the rules would place on the homeless.
By comparison, the Yreka ordinance does not impose fines upon homeless camping, and also offers other camping location options, said city officials. No jail time is associated with a violation.
“And there’s a fine only for people who can afford to pay, ” stated Henion. “It’s not a punitive ordinance, whatsoever. ”
Lorenzo Love, a Yreka resident and close observer of the City Council, dismissed the measure as “just a feel good thing. ”
“How are you going to enforce any of this? ” Love asked the particular council. “Somebody’s camping in the park. What are you going to do about it? Ask them politely to leave? ”
The “Use of the Public Rights of Way and Protection of Schoolchildren, Bus Stops, Critical Infrastructure, and Wildfire Risk Areas” as the ordinance is wordily titled, is but one piece in a larger strategy to address the growing issue of homelessness in the county, which seems to be mostly centered in Yreka.
City and county officials are in conversations with a local hotel owner interested in transitioning the property to homeless housing as part of the Project Homekey initiative, which places homeless residents in hotel rooms. The property is also adjacent to a parcel of undeveloped land which could be further explored for homeless services, said Ledbetter.
“We’re still in the vetting stages before we bring anything to council, ” he added.
The county will also learn this summer about the prospect of receiving state funding for additional shelter operations.
“Those two options at the moment, we’re crossing our fingers, because that would be a huge win for the community, ” mentioned Ledbetter.
“If we can get all of these parts and pieces put together, it’s going to make a huge difference in our community, on the homeless issue, ” said Kegg.
Yreka will enter into an agreement with the Greenhorn Disc Golf Club to develop an 18-hole disc golf course in Greenhorn Park. The particular club will be responsible for developing and constructing the course, which are low-impact sports with little disturbance on the landscape. The club will also be involved with organizing fundraising to support tournaments and other events.
“I’m all for it, ” said Matthew Bray, director of Yreka Public Works. “I think it’s a great addition to our park system. ”
Skip Descant is a freelance journalist. He’s written for newspapers in California, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He lives in downtown Yreka.