AZUSA, Calif. — To improve the health of the San Gabriel River and reduce risk to the public, including those illegally camping within the riverbed, the Los Angeles District cleared trash and floatable debris throughout most of December from a stretch of riverbed near Azusa.
The project, which began Dec. 4 and wrapped up Dec. 22, took place on land along the river maintained by the LA District for flood-risk management.
“The project area encompasses the Santa Fe Dam basin and spillway, and the San Gabriel River from the 210 Freeway north to just below the Mountain Cove Community,” said Trevor Snyder, project manager with the LA District.
Use of the Corps’ project lands for homeless encampments is prohibited by the agency’s regulations and Los Angeles County, as it presents a health and safety hazard to homeless individuals, residents, the environment and wildlife.
“We’re out here with several law enforcement agencies to assist the Army Corps of Engineers with the homeless situation within the San Gabriel riverbed, here, within the city of Azusa,” said Sgt. Steve Sears, Azusa Police Department. “It’s very important that we provide assistance to the homeless. We have Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority out here as well.”
Most of the unhoused individuals received a 72-hour warning notice to collect their belongings before departing the riverbed; however, when the project began, several remaining people were asked to leave and then connected with LASHA. Additional project assistance was offered by Los Angeles County Care and Control’s Major Case Unit in the days preceding and during the cleanup.
The project is a result of requests from local communities for assistance from the Corps to remove homeless encampments in the riverbed, with an emphasis on the campers’ safety, said Snyder, who also serves as a homeless liaison. Snyder recently hosted a meeting with state, county and federal agencies to coordinate responses to homeless encampments on Corps-managed lands.
“We strive to protect the lives and safety of those homeless during these cleanups,” Snyder said. “It is important to note that illegally living in a riverbed is very dangerous.”
Snyder said the focus of the cleanup is to remove floatable debris from the flood-risk management project and decrease associated fire risks that these camps bring to the local communities. Fire is a constant hazard in these encampments, as campers routinely use propane tanks or gasoline. Once used and discarded, aerosol cans, propane tanks and gas containers can explode during a blaze.
Additionally, with predicted El Niño weather conditions, heavy rains are expected this winter that will wash away campsites. Multiple rescues of the unhoused took place last spring after warnings went unheeded.
“It’s very dangerous for the homeless to be living down here, especially with the weather conditions and possible flooding,” Sears said. “We are trying, as a group, to help minimize any danger and provide assistance that they need to keep them out of harm’s way.”
“So far, we have removed 240 tons of trash and debris,” Snyder said. “We estimate a total of 480 tons will be removed. The removal of the floatable debris is critical for the operations of downstream dams, as the trash could clog the trash racks, preventing proper flows.”
The project continues as the contracted crew uses rakes, shovels and their hands instead of heavy equipment in the riverbed to avoid damage to the environment.