Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Feb. 28 @ 2:36 p.m. / Crime, Environment, Homelessness, Local Government

Del Norte Supervisors Authorize Closure of Union Street Area Near Elk Valley Road to Curtail Illegal Dumping, Camping, 'Criminal Activity'

Del Norte County will install K rail and locked gates to block vehicular access to the roads marked in red in an effort to combat illegal dumping, camping and other criminal activity. | Satellite image courtesy of Del Norte County


Board Report

Sheriff and CHP Letters of Support

Crescent Fire & Rescue Letter of Support


Del Norte’s Community Development Department received the green light Tuesday to block vehicle access to Union Street, Broad Street, South Bend Avenue, National Boulevard and Madison Avenue.

District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short assured fishermen, whose gear sheds front those roads, that they would be able to access their property.

But, when Roy and George Ruth — owners of the Ruth Compound, which has been notorious for illegal dumping, camping and burned-out trailers and RVs — raised concerns about access to their property, Short said there was an appeals process through the county.

“Ninety percent of the people who live out there on Union Street are not on my property,” Roy Ruth told supervisors. “I don’t know why they call it the Ruth Compound. I got the title from it, but I can’t tell people to move when they’re not on my property. They’re on the road right-of-way. I don’t know what to do about that.”

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of allocating $50,000 in Measure R tax dollars toward the purchase of locked gates and K rail. County staff would place those barriers at the entrance to those streets off of Elk Valley Road in an effort to curtail illegal camping, dumping and other criminal activity.

Short’s colleagues Dean Wilson and Chris Howard said the barriers are a “first step” toward cleaning up that area and addressing the number of emergency calls for service that have occurred. But District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey dissented, calling the gates and K rail a Band-aid.

“Our real efforts need to be put into how do we get the sheriff to attract and retain deputies so that we have more than one deputy on a shift — that’s one deputy to patrol the entire county,” she said. “That’s what my hesitation is and why I’m likely going to vote no on this.”

Short made the proposal to close Union Street, Broad Street, South Bend Avenue, National Boulevard and Madison Avenue after working with Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal and Code Enforcement officers Dominic Mello and Ryan Lopez.

Short said a Pacific Power spokesman also had input since the transmission line that brings electricity to the southern part of Del Norte County goes through that area.

He said he also received letters of support from Crescent City Fire Chief Kevin Carey, Sheriff Garrett Scott and Lt. Pete Roach, commander of the California Highway Patrol’s Crescent City office.

Short cited California Vehicle Code 21101.4, which allows local governments to temporarily close roads that are subject to serious and continual criminal activity as well as serious and continual illegal dumping. He also pointed out that state law allows local government to close a road if it wouldn’t block traffic flow or prevent emergency vehicles from accessing the areas.

The closure will be in effect for no more than 18 months, though the Board of Supervisors can extend that closure if the conditions described in the California Vehicle Code continue and they hold a public hearing.

Short said emergency responders would have keys to the locked gates blocking those roads.

According to Short, in 2023 the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office responded to 282 calls for service in that area. Crescent City Fire and Rescue responded to 50 calls for service in 2023.

“This approximate one-per-week response is far more than any other area or user in our responsibility area,” Carey said in his support letter to the Board of Supervisors. “We frequently respond for trailer/vehicle fires, trash/brush fires an dmedical calls relating to assault or overdoses.”

A trailer fire that occurred Jan. 18 caused one of the transmission lines in that Pacific Power right-of-way to fail, Short said. Luckily that power outage occurred in the middle of the night so not too many people were aware of it, he said.

Del Norte County previously attempted to block access to roads in that area in 2015. At that time, the Board of Supervisors legal advisor said they should ensure the property owners could still access their parcels to avoid potential liability over a takings claim.

On Tuesday, County Counsel Jacqueline Roberts said a takings liability is still a concern, but Del Norte County “is quite a large property owner in that area.” And current circumstances are different than what they were in 2015.

In response to Starkey, who asked if she would support the Board blocking Union Street and other roads in that area, Roberts said she’s not taking a position either for or against.

“I am pointing out that the circumstances are somewhat different now as pictures indicate the lawlessness and criminal activity that are occurring there now seem to be ten fold as opposed to what was going on in 2015,” Roberts said. “But I’m not taking a position. I’m just pointing out there are arguments on both sides.”

Though she didn’t know exactly how many acres it was, Kunstal said Del Norte County acquired a checkerboard of parcels during the fall and winter of 2023. The goal was to acquire lots in that area so the county could declare some of those roads abandoned, she said.

According to Kunstal, there are no permitted residences in that area. She told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Wednesday that she had checked with the county assessor’s office, which had a record of a mobile home on property in that area back in 1994 that has since been demolished.

There are also no water or sewer systems permitted in that area, Kunstal said. When asked if that means Roy or George Ruth were legally unable to live on their property, Kunstal answered in the affirmative.

Both brothers said they wouldn’t mind the county gating the road that leads to their property, which is on Union Street past Iowa Ave, but they asked supervisors for a key to the gate.

“There’s a lot of riffraff going through there that we have no control over,” George Ruth said. “Every time the cops have come down there and the fire department, we’ve helped and tried to give them everything they need.”

Union Street connects to Elk Valley Road at its junction with Howland Hill Road a little over a mile from U.S. 101.

George Ruth said he has been working to clean up the area. He credited Daphne Cortese-Lambert, of Del Norte Mission Possible, for her ambassadors picking up the trash in that area. He asked for a key.

“I got a lot of medical issues and I need to get in and out of there sometimes,” George Ruth said.

Cortese-Lambert said in the roughly two years since she has recruited members of the homeless community to clean up the garbage in the Bertsch-Tract and Elk Valley Road areas, the Ruth Compound has shown the most consistent change. She estimated removing between five and 1,000 pounds of garbage a week from that area.

She urged the Board of Supervisors to include the residents and landowners when trying to come up with solutions.

“I appreciate the Board’s intention to make changes, but in my experience I believe it takes an entire community,” she said. “In dealing with the unhoused community, it’s important to include them in the process in order to make positive and substantial changes.”

George Bradshaw, a local fisherman who stores about 500 crab pots along with salmon gear and bait on property on Broad Street, said gating that area is going to keep him from accessing his storage area. Referring to photos Short showed from 2013, Bradshaw said he could allow his kids to run around on his property back then.

Now there are numerous health code violations and “everything is burned out,” Bradshaw said.

“To us fishermen and other guys in the room, those fires … we’ll lose everything,” he said. “I was at a wrestling tournament a month and a half ago with my boys and I got a phone call [about] a fire right before we were going to set crab gear. It literally burned to the edge of my fence. Everything could have been gone before I went to work.”

In his support letter, Scott said the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office has an extensive history of responding to illegal dumping and criminal activity on Union Street between Iowa and Elk Valley Road. He said the DNSO would monitor how effective closing those streets will be over the next 18 months and requested access to the locked gate.

The Board’s action on Tuesday comes as Del Norte County partners with Del Norte Mission Possible on a multifaceted plan to combat homelessness using $10.8 million in state Encampment Resolution Funding grant dollars. This plan includes building a 60-bed emergency shelter and a 50-unit micro home village on county property near Williams Drive.

Though Short said his proposal has nothing to do with that ERF grant and “Del Norte Mission Possible is not part of this ask.”


© 2024 Lost Coast Communications Contact: