Los Angeles sanitation crews entered a homeless encampment packed with makeshift structures and piles of items in a clean-up operation Wednesday in the Sepulveda Basin.
The encampment is on 34 acres near Encino Creek. The clean-up was part of a larger effort to clear out encampments in the west San Fernando Valley area.
Crews making their way through the area encountered a series of makeshift structures, colloquially known as "The Bamboos." What appeared to be boards and other materials were stacked on top of one another in a dense forest of palm trees and shrubbery. Crews also found power generators in the densely packed camp.
A woman who identified herself as Charlene said she has lived in the area -- on and off -- for about six years. She said was not aware the clean-up was scheduled for Wednesday.
"It's kind of like helpless and hopeless, because where are we supposed to go?" she said. "We're not trying to be on people's front lawns."
She planned to remove as many of her belongings as possible in a shopping cart, but said she wasn't sure where she'd go next.
"We're running out of room," she said. "We're not bothering anybody.
"We're a community of people."
The basin has been under close scrutiny by the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and Environment since fires erupted last summer in the wildland area, which is leased by the city from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Homeless people have been cleared from the Sepulveda Basin in three other areas because it's designated as parkland that closes at dusk and reopens at dawn, and is off-limits for camping.
Sanitation officials have broken the basin's cleanup into separate phases. The first phase focused on areas near the Sepulveda Basin Sports Complex, the second was around Haskell Creek and the third phase was near Bull Creek.
Wednesday's phase was in an area the public is never supposed to enter because it is in 34 acres of a floodplain near Encino Creek and can become inundated with water during heavy rains, city officials said.
"The Sepulveda Basin is not made for human habitation, and we are the next fire or flood away from losing lives. We must do everything in our power to avert that," said City Council President Nury Martinez, who represents the district in which the encampments are located. "As the fires and rain storms have shown us, it is a major public safety risk to people living there, people who visit the site for recreational purposes and those who live in the surrounding communities. For everyone's sake, it simply cannot continue."
Notices were posted in the area warning that people who did not vacate the area would be arrested and cited for trespassing, and their property would be removed or booked at 507 Towne Ave. for 90 days. Los Angeles Police Department officials said no one from the encampment had been arrested as of midday.
Hundreds of homeless people have been identified as living in the Sepulveda Basin by local advocacy organizations, and as many as 100 people may have still been in the area before Wednesday's cleanup.
Sepulveda Basin was the scene of fires last summer that charred dozens of acres. The most recent fire occurred Oct. 24, burning about 60 acres. Another fire burned 10 acres in July, days before the first scheduled cleanup, with some propane tanks spotted in the burn area, increasing the danger for fire crews.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the nonprofit organization LA Family Housing have been referring homeless people removed from the basin and other encampments to housing services. The number of people who have been referred to services from the basin since last summer was not immediately available.
In addition to LASAN's cleanup and outreach CARE and CARE-Plus teams, LAPD and park rangers have been assisting with enforcement during cleanups.
Although Los Angeles challenged a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in a case known as Martin v. the city of Boise, the city cannot remove homeless people from public areas unless they have shelter or housing for them. The U.S. Supreme Court declined in December to review the case. But the city does have measures in place that bar people from residing in high-risk fire zones and floodplains.
California state legislators on Monday introduced a bill that would create a state agency, the Governor's Office to End Homelessness.