Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, July 27, 2022 @ 4:30 p.m.
Preston Island Encampments Prompt Del Norte County to Make Overnight Parking Regs Consistent With Crescent City's; Residents May Form Neighborhood Watch-Type Group, Starkey Says
(Updated at 11:11 a.m. to include comments from Pebble Beach Drive resident Heidi Kime.)
(Updated at 9:10 a.m. to correct Randy Hooper's title. Hooper is Del Norte County's assistant county administrative officer.)
Del Norte County officials have begun conversations with Crescent City to ensure their overnight parking ordinances are consistent, particularly at Preston Island, which has seen an influx of campers, some staying two weeks at a time.
Meanwhile, District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey is working with residents in the Pebble Beach Drive area between Grand Avenue and 9th Street to organize a Neighborhood Watch or a Neighbors Helping Neighbors group.
She has scheduled a town hall for 11 a.m. Aug. 27 at Preston Island so residents can meet their neighbors and decide what steps they want to take to protect their homes.
“Preston Island is really unique because part of it is run by the city and part by the county,” she told the Wild Rivers Outpost. “So this really needs to be a collaborative project.”
Preston Island is a rocky spit of land connected to one of the most scenic drives in Del Norte County by a narrow road winding down the hill. That road is in Crescent City limits, while the parking area and tide pools are within the county’s jurisdiction.
Every summer, the county receives complaints from residents about illegal camping in several areas, including Preston Island. Starkey said one homeowner told her their house was broken into three times.
For the most part, people parked in the area late at night are trying to forego a camping fee at a campground, Del Norte County Sheriff Garrett Scott told the Outpost. But one encampment below Pebble Beach Drive and Del Monte Street has been a problem during the winter.
People have blazed a trail down the cliff through the brush to the beach, Scott said. And though it’s inaccessible during high tide, people have returned to the area even after deputies ask previous campers to move along.
“There’s one camp that seems to be pretty popular and so as soon as we move one group of people out, we end up, almost within a few days, having a new group of people camping there,” Scott said. “We’re really having to be diligent to get down there and advise people they will be cited if they’re caught again. The effort on our part has been to try to just hit that nightly to get those people out of there. They’re leaving a lot of garbage and lighting small campfires and things like that.”
There are also a number of vacation rentals in the area, making it easy for those camping to determine who is home and who isn’t, Scott said. Most residents in the area have security systems and surveillance cameras, and deputies are able to respond within 5-7 minutes.
In one situation, a Pebble Beach Drive resident reported a strange pickup truck showing up at their home, a separate case where people were on their back deck and and then a break-in and theft at a locked carport, according to Scott. A box was also taken from an open vehicle parked in front of the resident’s home, he said.
“Those were different days and so the residents there have cameras and they monitor those cameras regularly and we’ve been able to respond to any problem there within 5-7 minutes,” Scott said. “We did locate two subjects on one date that were still in the area and we did cite them for prowling around the residence.”
Former city councilor, Heidi Kime, who complained of transient activity at between Preston Island and Brother Jonathan Point last year, said things have gotten worse.
“We know there’s prostitution going on down there and a lot of illegal activity,” she said, adding that people have also carved places to sleep on a bluff that already faces significant erosion. “And then we contact law enforcement. They get there and it’s not happening. They have to catch them in the act.”
Kime hopes that by forming a neighborhood watch group, she and her neighbors can help law enforcement better patrol the area. The plan is in its infancy, but one neighbor, who’s been doing research, discovered that neighborhood watch groups could be eligible for small grants to improve the neighborhood. Kime said she and her neighbors are thinking about purchasing a drone for law enforcement to use to monitor the activity on the bluff just north of Brother Jonathan Point.
“They can’t get down there,” Kime told the Outpost. “These people that are down there are using drugs and sleeping and partying. They’re counting on the fact they are well concealed and it’s difficult for law enforcement to get there."
Another idea Kime suggested is placing a gate at the entrance to Preston Island that the city could lock at night.
“We don’t allow camping in the park,” she said. “The park’s closed at dusk, they’re locking the bathrooms at night, why don’t they have a gate they can lock at night so you can’t drive a van down there?”
Under the county code, overnight parking or camping is prohibited on most county-owned properties and right-of-ways except in an authorized campground. The county code defines overnight as “any portion of the period between sunset of any given day and sunrise of the following day.”
In Crescent City, its parks are closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., according to CCPD Chief Richard Griffin. Under the municipal code, overnight camping is prohibited at city parks from midnight to 7 a.m.
According to Griffin, interpretation for these ordinances came out of the 2018 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Martin v. Boise case, which ruled that cities can’t enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available. Griffin also referenced Blake v. The City of Grants Pass, a 2020 lawsuit that tested the Martin v. Boise ruling.
Crescent City’s prohibition on overnight camping at Beachfront Park doesn’t single out a specific section of the population, Griffin pointed out.
“That allows officers to go in there at night and say everybody’s out and then in the morning it’s a fresh start for the next day,” Griffin told the Outpost.
Del Norte County’s code loosely defines overnight as sunset to sunrise, Assistant County Administrative Officer Randy Hooper said. Though the conversations have just begun, Hooper said the county’s goal is to have a consistent standard between the two jurisdictions that both law enforcement agencies can use.
Though the focus is on Preston Island, Hooper said an updated ordinance could apply to other areas where the city and county’s jurisdictions overlap.
“From an enforcement perspective, it creates a little more certainty on their part that whenever the clock strikes a certain hour whether or not (someone is) camping there, it is time to move on,” Hooper said. “It’s all on the table. The idea with the direction staff was given is to present a range of alternatives to the Board and ultimately the Board would have a conversation with the public and make a decision based on what they think is important.”
The Crescent City Police Department has an agreement with the DNSO to enforce ordinances within the county's jurisdiction at Preston Island, Griffin said. That was a partnership Griffin formed under former sheriff, Erik Apperson, and was able to continue under Randy Walt and now, Scott.
“We wouldn’t normally get dispatched for calls down there either,” Griffin told the Outpost. “If we can get county ordinances on the same wavelength as city ordinances it would be easier for us to work together and do patrols down there.”
Starkey said the meeting she helped organize for Aug. 27 at Preston Island is open to everyone, though she’s going to focus on the issues in that immediate vicinity. She said she hopes those residents can meet and decide how they want to approach the problem.
“It’s kind of up to them,” she said. “Then we’ll branch out if we want to branch out. I’m just there to guide them through this.”