By George Miller, David Scrivner & Abraham Mendez
Ormond Beach, Oxnard, CA
We recently visited the numerous, remote, persistent and illegal Oxnard beach encampments and have some news to report to you (most photos were taken on 9-7-19). In summary:
- The encampments are far from being “cleared out” as we had been told and may actually be growing again. We spotted at least 60 tents/shelters, some with multiple occupancy and there are other areas we didn’t even reach. Staff at Oxnard City Council meetings gave the impression that clearing the area was going better than what we actually observed.
- People said they were encouraged to move from the Oxnard Ormond Beach property to areas under Nature Conservancy or “federal control”.
- The areas are difficult to reach, police and provide services to. Oxnard resources to do so are rather limited.
- We did not observe any encampments on City of Port Hueneme land.
- These people are technically not “homeless.” They are illegal squatters living on public and private land.
- Many are distressed and need help getting their lives in order.
The homeless problem in Oxnard and many other California communities continues to worsen, even in the face of a strong economy and efforts to address it. Without getting into a comprehensive analysis of why they are here, it appears that some people fall through the cracks. Many have mental/emotional/physical/addiction problems. But many are unwilling or unable to initiate or even consent to the sometimes difficult steps to get out of the holes that they are in. Some programs to help the homeless go begging because target subjects will not go even when solicited multiple times.
I saw more examples of this on Saturday, September 7, 2019 as we toured Oxnard’s remote south beach areas of Ormond Beach, the Halaco Superfund site and all the way up to the Port Hueneme borderline. At that time, many people enjoyed the beautiful sunny beach on a weekend afternoon, sunbathing, fishing on the pier, surfing, walking, sightseeing, or picnicking, seemingly oblivious to the misery only within walking distance.
It occurs to some of us that these people in the encampments are not technically “homeless.” They have staked out turf and established homes in the area, some very primitive, some more sophisticated. But those are unauthorized homes on private and public land, which makes them squatters, not homeless.
Citizens Journal has relied upon the reporting efforts of Lang Martinez, Christina Zubko, David Scrivner and Hueneme Voice Publisher Tom Dunn for bulletins on the situation here. They, along with Port Hueneme Councilman Steve Gama, persuaded me to make this visit and write about it with them.
At the 9-3-19 Oxnard Council meeting, homeless advocate Lang Martinez referred to emails circulating about the homeless situation and wanted to know if he could get council members’ response. Martinez claimed that 5 encampments still exist at Ormond Beach as of 9-5-19. Reports to us are that some homeless have moved from there to conservancy and City of Port Hueneme land (we saw none at the latter on 9-7-19). Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn told me on 9-7-19 that he would meet with us on this and he did (see writeup later in this article)
Here’s what’s at stake:
Tour of Ormond Beach area homeless encampments
On 9-7-19, several us met at the picturesque, iconic Port Hueneme pier and beach area, then headed over to the south parking area. Local businessman and charity volunteer Abraham Mendez guided us, walking the beach south to the Oxnard borderline, where we spotted some encampments past the lagoon. We cut inland to observe dwellings and talk to some people living there. It was an interesting assortment of people, not what I expected, being more familiar with the down and out types in the downtown area.
We spent about 3 1/2 hours walking around there with Abraham, Lang, David and our guide, encampment resident Greg. We went through dunes, brush, the Halaco Superfund toxic waste site and around the lagoon. We saw at least 60 tents. There are other areas we didn’t get to with even more. So there are probably at least 100 if not many more people living in the area. We observed significant environmental damage in this precious wetland/marsh/wildland area. These included garbage/trash/human waste strewn around, vegetation trampled, numerous new paths cut, wildlife disturbed. Recently, there were even attempts to drain the lagoon. This is taking a significant ecological toll.
Activist note:I did some more studying of Oxnard’s Local Coastal Plan and found language that cites Coastal Act policies. This one in particular stood out:
Coastal Act Policy 30240: a. Environmentally sensitive habitat areas shall be protected
against any significant disruption of habitat values, and
only uses dependent on such resources shall be allowed
within such areas.In essence, not only is Oxnard out of compliance with its own city ordinance (2906), it is also out of compliance with the Coastal Act..If we need language to fall back to, here it is..Christina Zubko (local activist)
A few weeks ago, Oxnard Police started a major clearing effort to get squatters out of the area. But, some are still where they were before or just moved around. Some have moved onto the Nature Conservancy land or outside the Halaco Superfund toxic waste site. More than one resident told me that they were told to go there and to leave by March. Why March, I asked? Nesting season (birds) they replied.
“Greg” was our volunteer guide for nearly all of our 3 1/2 hour tour. He proved to be resourceful and knowledgeable in what is going on and is somewhat of an informal local leader. He says he helps to maintain security, cleanliness and even water supply, which comes from fire hydrants, in one section of the encampments. Garbage is buried (but only near some encampments). Only some area residents attempt to police/clean up. Most other areas were very messy, strewn with tons of trash/garbage/waste. There are no toilets at all in the area, no trash dumpsters, no running water, no sewers. There are toilets, sinks and cold showers at Hueneme Beach, 1-2 miles away via paths and the beach.
Greg told us that he is 33, was a heroin baby, made money selling/delivering cannabis, used meth and is currently on probation. Homeless 7 years, he has been in the area for 2 years. He looks very lean, but not emaciated. His encampment was sprawling, messy, but fairly well equipped with the necessities, if not the luxuries, of life. He offered us food and drink. His speech sounded somewhat slurred to me but he was quick-witted and had a sense of humor. He said he would like to be in “a program” and off drugs, but he didn’t exactly leap at an opportunity offered by Lang. He was relatively lucid. He said he has 5 children via multiple relationships (divorced), not with him here.
Greg pointed out a nearby multi-acre charred fire area within sight of Perkins Road- arson 4 days ago he said. Oxnard FD came and put it out. He thinks nearby gang members set it. He said it would be dangerous for outsiders like us to wander about alone here and claimed we might be attacked.
In our travels, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the residents. Maria has a larger tented complex (above), well outfitted, even has battery powered devices and cooking facilities in the most orderly residence we visited. She said most of her stuff is scavenged from things just lying around or donated to her. She said she has lived at this location for 6 months and in the area for three years. My understanding is that she was told to leave the beach area and went a bit farther inland. She appeared to be living with a young man who didn’t speak English and seemed rather uneasy in my presence. Maria has no medical insurance and says she relies upon FoodShare to eat. It was hard to see her in the murky lighting inside her tent, but she seemed to be relatively healthy. She never got out of bed while we were talking, after noon.
Another camper, John, said “the feds came” and “said we have to leave in March.” He said the Hueneme Police were here at the same time and “kissed ass” with the “feds.” (No one seems to know for sure who these “feds” were). He says he has been searched, with his consent. He has MediCal and uses FoodShare.
We detected the mouth-watering aroma of pancakes being cooked by three friendly women living along the edge of the Halaco toxic waste site and walked over to talk. One was dressed in a rather provocative leopard print dress. I told her she looked like a soap opera star. The three had been homeless 5, 3 and 2 years respectively. One, Miriam, said that her husband (living there, but not present while I was) was injured and lost his construction job, which triggered the homelessness. He is working now, but disabled and making far less. I was wondering how he could get to work on time every day, with no car, no nearby public transit and a long walk to even reach the nearest road. On questioning, she revealed that she had a diabetic condition and no medical insurance, which she blamed on stolen ID. When I told her she could get ID via Community Action’s “One Stop” service, she demurred, saying she couldn’t leave her pet alone. Oxnard Homeless Coordinator Mark Alvarado and I were comparing notes later, to learn that she had told both of us the same thing.
All three agreed that they would like a social worker to help them, a phone, and that porta potties and dumpsters would go a long way toward better hygiene. That might be logistically difficult there and would help enable indefinite squatting.
There are basic survival support services available, such as disability payments, welfare, food stamps, MediCal/medical, private FoodShare and social services, and more, but many residents do not appear to be utilizing them. It doesn’t seem to be because of ignorance of their existence. Keep in mind that many are addicts, mentally/emotionally challenged, or possibly fugitives.
“New York Vic”, a senior citizen living in the dunes in a tent (above), is anxious to get help for his wife, who he says is seriously addicted. He had arranged to have her brought to an interview, but she balked at the last minute. He thinks that another woman could best talk to her about it, so someone is trying to arrange that.
Oxnard Police Dept. Weighs in
Although the Housing Department has overall responsibility for the homeless program, the police department is responsible for law enforcement and is taking the point on the Ormond Beach situation. I spoke to Oxnard PD Assistant Chief Sonstegard about it this week. He just got back from a conference. He told me he had 56 emails, about 35 of which were homeless-related. The police workload is disproportionately skewed to the homeless problem, which encompasses only 1/4% of the population and only some of them are criminals.
He remarked that it is getting progressively worse, that he is a bit frustrated with the situation and is requesting some additional tools and resources, which I’ll get to in a bit, after listing some of his thoughts conveyed to me, namely:
On a day to day basis, OPD is attempting to protect Ormond Beach and nearby areas with daily patrols. The area is large and logistically difficult to access. You can’t just drive by the affected areas in a patrol car. You have to park and walk considerably, or come by in a 4 x 4 “Polaris” vehicle and still walk to less accessible areas. (During our tour on 9-7-19, we did not see any police presence, but it would be easy to miss them in such a large area).
He somberly pointed out that they only have two homeless liaisons and that they can’t both spend all their time at Ormond Beach (which we estimate may contain about 25% of the city’s homeless total of about 600). Sworn officers (about 230- a much lower ratio than most jurisdictions) are spread pretty thin in a city of over 220+ thousand people, with an estimated 1800 gang members, 600 homeless, other assorted criminals, traffic enforcement, assaults, sex crimes, car thefts, burglaries, home invasions, shoplifting, white collar crime and more. They need to cover the city 24/7/365, including vacations, sick time, court time and training time. Budget constraints have made it tough to address the city’s many problems. He says that they need more resources/tools to get the job done. He agrees that we shouldn’t “criminalize the homeless,” but understands that statutes must be enforced.
Sonstegard said that enforcement action is very time-intensive. It takes at least two hours to do even a minimal patrol, with two officers and much walking required just to get to the patrol areas. Offenses like under the influence of controlled substances, for example, may involve 3-6 offenses before a prosecution occurs, with arrest, booking, transportation and court time involved for police resources. He said that it is also difficult to respond to medical emergencies in the area (a Fire Dept. task).
Further complicating matters is that the area involves six different jurisdictions, public and private: Oxnard, Port Hueneme (currently clear of encampments, but there are enforcement issues), Ventura County, Halaco area (under new ownership), State Coastal Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy.
When I asked him how the police can enforce ordinances on private property, he said that the mechanism for that is an “agent authorization.” I asked him if there was such a document for The Nature Conservancy land here and he said he did not know.
I asked him if the city has posted signs of prohibited activity and he said no. I asked him why not and he couldn’t answer that.
Sonstegard said that California Proposition 47 and 57, AB109 and the Boise court ruling (people can sleep on public land unless there is someplace else available for them) have greatly complicated enforcement. He then pointed out that the Police Dept is proposing changes to City Ordinances to better deal with the situation and requests that residents come to the 9-17-19 Oxnard Council meeting to opine on these, which include what he calls “Quality Of Life” ordinances and that these do not apply just to the homeless:
Item M-2. City Attorney Department
SUBJECT: Camping, Removal and Storage of Personal Property, Park Exclusion, and Aggressive
Panhandling and Solicitation Ordinances. (20/20/20)
RECOMMENDATION: That City Council approve the first reading by title only and waive further
reading of an ordinance amending Article XVIII of Chapter 7 of the Oxnard City Code related to
Ormond Beach, and adding Articles XX, XXI and XXII to Chapter 7 of the Oxnard City Code
regulating Camping, Removal and Storage of Personal Property, Park and Park Facility Exclusion,
and Aggressive Panhandling and Solicitation.
Legislative Body: City Council
Contact: Stephen Fischer, (805) 385-7483
For ordinance details see agenda item M-2 starting on page 266.
Homeless Assistance Coordinator Mark Alvarado
The Housing Department is the point department for homeless programs. Grant money comes through Housing. The problem is viewed somewhat through a housing prism. Their approach to homelessness is “housing first,” with the assumption that people must first have a place to call home to have any stability.
One might think from that that they are proposing immediate permanent housing, but that is not the case. In a conversation weeks ago with the Housing Director Emilio Ramirez, he explained that homeless might first need to undergo treatment, live in a shelter then maybe be in a sober living home, then transitional housing, before ever having a permanent place. He understands that some people might never be capable of managing a household and may require some form of assisted or even institutionalized living. But he wants housing available to accommodate all of these. This could take years and involve many millions of dollars. Where all the money will come from and how much is unknown at this time,
Homeless Assistance Coordinator Mark Alvarado is currently a one man band with a part time helper. I asked him how many homeless liaison people he had and he responded “I’m it.” He throws himself into his work every day with good cheer and passion, however. He also tries to set up and manage public private partnerships with service providers, since the city hasn’t the money, manpower or organization to address the needs of the homeless.
But Alvarado has been out to Ormond Beach to assess and attempt outreach to the homeless, when he’s not in Plaza Park or elsewhere trying to deal with the situation or obtain and coordinate resources to do so. With new Housing Director Emilio Ramirez and City Manager Alex Nguyen both making it a high priority and the council and state getting up a head of steam to better address it, moving the needle is becoming more likely.
But practically speaking, the city hasn’t yet shown much results in addressing the Ormond Beach situation and the public is increasingly demanding effective action- both enforcement and treatment. Mark hopes to have a staff some day to make more of an impact.
Abraham Mendez, who helped lead the tour and took most of the photos for this article, later told me that it’s not safe to walk at night in the Hueneme Pier area. Homeless from the Ormond Beach area hang out there, may not be mentally sound, some are morally-challenged and attempt to solicit money from the public.
Homeless advocate Lang Martinez has approached some area residents, with outreach efforts offering to help them obtain services. He is met with much resistance. In conversations with residents about obtaining services, I heard lots of excuses. Too far to walk to town. ID was lost/stolen. Don’t want husband-wife separated. Can’t be away from my pet/stuff, etc.
But, there are some hurdles to be cleared to obtain services. For example, one needs to be cleared by county medical as drug free before obtaining an assessment or entering a sober living program. Not so easy for addicts. Mr. Martinez, or Mark Alvarado- Oxnard Homeless Assistance Coordinator can help direct people to these services, as can several other organizations..
Mayor Flynn Visits the Area
At the last City Council meeting, Lang Martinez asked the Council to weigh in on the Ormond Beach homeless situation. Mayor Flynn demurred, citing Brown Act prohibitions, but offered to meet with him. I also asked the Mayor for his thoughts, but he instead said let’s meet and walk the homeless encampments together and talk. Lang Martinez and David Scrivner joined us.
So on Thursday afternoon, 9-12-19, we met at the South end of Hueneme Beach. David Scrivner explained the landscape and locations of the encampments while we walked south on one of the finest wide, flat, smooth sand beaches around. We spotted the encampments when we reached the end of the lagoon. We immediately noticed some people in uniform (Fire Dept.) and some other well-dressed people who didn’t look like they lived in the encampments.
When we got there, Mayor Flynn refused to walk with us to the encampments, citing that it was a restricted area due to bird habitation and a sign/fence marked it (he didn’t already know that?). I said if your Fire Dept. people can be there, so can you, but he wouldn’t come in, citing that he is “a public official.” While I was talking to Flynn and Scrivner, Martinez just walked in and determined that Fire Dept., Nature Conservancy and some other organization were in there.
While Scrivner and I were chatting with the Mayor on the beach, we asked him how he would deal with the homeless situation. Eyeing rows of tents up in the dunes, with people walking on delicate vegetation and scaring away the birds, he realizes that the existing approach is not working so well. He is also aware of many people having an aversion to treatment programs. He said he was leaning toward a “three strikes” approach. After the three strikes, which he didn’t then define, he said offenders should be offered three options: 1)- treatment program, 2)- bus ticket back to wherever they came from, 3)- prison. This would help end the revolving door justice which is now a nightmare for the police and the public. This might mean that the county and maybe even the state has to cooperate to make something like this work, which outside the control of the city, but not completely outside of its influence. That evening, in a subsequent conversation, he defined the three strikes as resisting three attempts at intervention.
Martinez and I talked to a couple of tent residents. One was 60 year old “NY Nick” whom we spoke with last Saturday. No progress with his addicted wife. We sent Nick down to the beach to talk to the Mayor and we saw them having an animated conversation. When he came back, he said that Flynn had offered him a job. When I asked about that later, Flynn said he had merely offered to introduce him to some construction industry contacts and asked him how he could get to and from work on time from this remote location.
We also talked to “Sher,” a 68 year old woman in a bathing suit who looked a lot older. I asked for her story. She said she had lived at the Halaco toxic waste site for five years, has kidney, liver and colon cancer and took responsibility for it. Lang asked her if she had been offreed county medical services here. She said they were last here about three weeks ago.
I pointed to the Mayor down on the beach and asked her if she wanted to meet him. She said no, she already knew him and his father and had told him what to do about this long ago. I asked what she would recommend. Incredibly, she said move all the people to the Halaco site and provide them with services there (hey, just writing down what she told me). Lang and I asked her if she would like to see a nurse, who was waiting for Lang back at the car at Hueneme Beach. She said yeah and said she had to get a few things. Twenty minutes later, still no Sher. Just another day in paradise at Ormond Beach. Gee whiz.
News articles are supposed to be about facts, not advocacy. So we will leave it to you, dear readers, to evaluate this and make up your own minds about what is wrong with this picture, what should be done about it, with what resources, by whom and whether they are up to the job.
|Ormond Beach – Personal Observations from a tour on Sept. 7, 2019
|City Manager Nguyen,
Two weeks ago PHPD and OPD cooperated in a joint effort to evict the vagrant population from The western end of the dunes and beach area on Ormond Beach. As you know, many of these people just moved east and set up new encampments in front of the slag pile. According the PHPD, fifty people were contacted and offered a bed in the shelter and/or residential drug treatment. Two of them accepted the offer, the other forty-eight declined and continue living there.
Assistant Chief Sonstegard repeatedly assured the public that OPD was committed to a sustained effort to remove the vagrants from Ormond Beach and a clean up of the trash and destruction left behind. So what actually happened? Apparently, what happened was exactly what two OPD officers on August 24 told me would happen, that is, OPD would pull back enforcement on Ormond Beach in two days and that there were no plans to remove any more encampments. Seventeen days later that’s exactly what has
On Saturday, I accompanied two homeless advocates and another individual on a guided tour of the entire area, which was lead by one of the vagrants living there. To put it mildly, I was blown away by what I saw. Here’s a summary of what I saw and
Our guide told us that it was the result of a turf battle. An unnamed motorcycle gang had recently come into the area and tried to take it over. The vagrants responded by burning them out. I had a hard time believing this until Sunday when I drove to McWayne Parkway off Arcturus. To my surprise there was a motorcycle gang there roaring around on their motorcycles, pulling wheelies etc. I quickly left because they appeared to be aggressive and threatening.
The gates blocking access to the TNC property were open because someone had removed the locks.
Some help resources
Community Action of Ventura County
621 Richmond Ave (5th Ste), Oxnard, CA 93030/ (805) 436-4000/ https://www.ca-vc.org/
Mon-Fri 7 am – 12 pm. Showers, laundry, mail service, get new ID, food, food stamps, get MediCal card,
Tuesdays 8:30 – 11:00 am is “One Stop” day. County help resources on site, along with above services.
Oxnard Housing Dept., Mark Alvarado, Homeless Assistance Coordinator/805-385-8044/ [email protected]
Oxnard Police Dept (lead agency for Ormond Beach Homeless situation), 805-385-7600, https://www.oxnardpd.org/ Report a crime 805-385-7740 / EMERGENCY: dial 911
“Nobody Knows But Me”- Homeless Outreach referral services– Lang Martinez- 805-940-5852
Miscellaneous relevant correspondence:
Yes, we’re aware of the encampments on the waste pile property. We have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get the property owners to take steps to remove the encampments and better secure the property. The waste pile property was sold a year or so ago. The new owners have not been responsive.
We’ve also been talking with city representatives, and are hoping to talk to Nature Conservancy staff this week about the encampments straddling their property and the waste pile property.
Our likely next step is to meet with the occupants of the encampments and strongly encourage them to leave the property. To do that we first need to work out access, and coordinate our efforts with the Oxnard police, other city representatives, and TNC.
There is no protective layer on the waste pile, as stated in the email below. Nevertheless, we do not want anyone camping on the property or disturbing the wastes.
Wayne Praskins | Superfund Project Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9
75 Hawthorne St. (SFD-7-3)
San Francisco, CA 94105
Coastal Commission correspondence:
Read complaint letter from US Fish & Wildlife Service: LOCAL, VEN, City of Oxnard Homeless Encampments, Ormond Beach, Comments, WSP, CLTE, 2019-CPA-0131
George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.