The City of Paso Robles is declaring a public safety emergency over the current state of the Salinas Riverbed.
City leaders are allocating more than $300,000 from the city’s general fund to start creating fuel breaks to reduce the risk of fires.
City Manager Thomas Frutchey says approximately every three days there’s a fire in the riverbed. The most recent fire caused a shutdown of the Niblick Bridge.
Now, city leaders are trying to work quickly to reduce fire risks before things get worse.
“The Salinas River, which in many ways should be an asset to us, is becoming a liability,” Frutchey said.
So far in 2019, Frutchey says there have been 63 fires in the Salinas Riverbed.
The riverbed used to be cleared out every year to prepare for fire season but they had to stop due to environmental concerns.
“In balancing off those competing needs, what’s happened is brush, dead brush and dead wood have really taken over,” Frutchey explained.
Now a public safety emergency has been declared and that $300,000 will be used to retain a biologist, add fuel breaks and host a police unit of three officers from Paso Robles Police Department.
“So we want to be prepared in case some of the homeless who have their encampments in areas that aren’t disturbed say, ‘You know what, I’m scared of the fires, too. I’m at risk just as much if not more than anyone else. I want to get out of here,’ so we want to make sure we have the ability to contact them and connect them to services,” Frutchey said.
That’s exciting for homeless outreach and support groups like Paso Cares.
President Gail McNichols and volunteers hand out bags of food to the homeless in North County year-round and host a warming shelter during the winter.
“So our hope for the future is that Paso Robles homeless will be getting more attention and therefore more services and we can move out some of those people who are happy to go into housing,” McNichols said.
No work can be done in the riverbed until an environmental analysis is finished. The city manager expects that to be done by August 1.
Frutchey says the riverbed is the most forested area in all of Paso Robles, spanning around 680 acres within the city limits.
The city says it doesn’t plan to remove all of the homeless from the riverbed, just those living in the potential fuel break areas.