Maria Gutzeit: Wakeup call along the wash


A wakeup call rang last Tuesday morning: an assault occurred on the bike path. It wasn’t a surprise given the drug usage and encampments along the river, but now it has the City’s attention. We should all support the City and the Sheriffs in taking steps to prevent things from getting worse.

I went out for a quick bike ride last Tuesday morning. My cycling neighbor caught up to me. We were chatting about the group ride starting soon near the old Pavilion’s store, when we came upon what looked like a bike accident. We were on the South Fork Trail, behind the auto dealerships. A woman was on the ground, clearly dazed. A few cyclists we both knew were there, both on cell phones, calling for help. One advised us we should “probably keep moving.” I figured they just didn’t want a big gaggle of people standing around. As we rolled away, I saw a sheriff running towards the scene on foot.

It wasn’t a bike accident. The cyclists saved a 70-year-old woman on foot from being strangled by a transient, as has been reported in The Signal and in comments at City Council. The transient, a repeat drug offender, has been charged with attempted murder.

The prior week two friends of mine had their cell phones lifted off their person, in what were, essentially, muggings–in broad daylight. One was in the heart of Valencia, near California Pizza Kitchen, and she was shocked that this could happen in “the good part of town.” I was not surprised due to the number of people (especially relatively young adults) I see along the river, clearly drug impaired. The number has risen dramatically in recent years. I figured being on a bike, during daylight, is safe enough, but one starts to wonder. Certainly I’m moving quickly, and know to give a wide berth. What about kids, riding to school? What about walkers and joggers, especially in early morning or after dark?

Santa Clarita is, of course, well cared for compared to some areas. In downtown LA you can smell the urine-soaked sidewalks through rolled up car windows. In San Francisco, school kids are taught to walk around human feces. In San Diego, a Hepatitis A outbreak was tied to unsanitary conditions and homelessness.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “a survey by the United States Conference of Mayors found that 68 percent of cities reported that substance abuse was the largest cause of homelessness for single adults.” Newspaper columns in San Diego, Fresno, San Francisco and more opine that Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for minor drug offenses, contributed greatly to recent huge spikes in homelessness and property crimes. Marc Debbaut, president emeritus of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, stated emphatically in March 2016 “the real tragedy of reckless experiments in criminal justice reform…(is) the unnecessary creation of more crime victims.”

This year Portland-area residents got fed up with problems from an estimated 500 people living along their 21 mile Springwater Corridor trail. Summer camps for children along the trail were canceled due to safety concerns. Residents lamented that, while the police would respond after crimes were committed, they no longer felt safe and also noted a lot of environmental damage being done to the greenbelt. “It’s not a homeless issue, but it’s a lawless issue,” a citizen said.

Our city isn’t to that point yet. Our Sheriff’s Captain Lewis told the City Council that they have doubled drug related arrests in the past several months, and continue to do homeless camp sweeps. Our trails are already posted with no loitering and no camping signs. The County will be taking in $355 million dollars a year for ten years from the sales tax increase for homeless under voter-approved Proposition H. The budget, listed by the LA Times, shows ZERO funding for addressing in community impacts caused by homeless camps’ addicts and criminals. Maybe it should be revised?

We haven’t yet found the cure for these severe societal problems. I do know we all are often tapped to pay, and pay again, for programs that take years to make a difference, if they ever do. I also know an absolute first priority should be making sure our communities are safe. I absolutely applaud those working on these difficult issues and implore you to remember not only the rights of those in trouble, but also the rights of those who live around them.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected water official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.


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