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UPDATE: The city has temporarily closed Pico Park for maintenance, as the grounds of the public facility have been cordoned off since Tuesday afternoon.
In an announcement on the city’s website, the city advises residents and visitors looking to hike the trail system above the park, near Sea Summit, to park at the North Beach lot in order to gain access.
“The City will post updates on the reopening of the park as more information becomes available,” the city stated.
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more details become available. Below is the full story on the recent rise in police calls to Pico Park, where the city has seen additional homeless activity since limiting access to the city-sanctioned homeless encampment across from the park.
By Shawn Raymundo
Calls for police services to address incidents at Pico Park have risen sharply since September, when the city began limiting space at its nearby homeless encampment to those only with ties to San Clemente.
Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 16, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department responded to roughly 50 reported incidents at the park, most of which were for calls of disturbance, according to a record of call logs OCSD provided to San Clemente Times.
“San Clemente Police Services has seen an increase in calls for service to Pico Park,” OCSD spokesperson Carrie Braun said in a text message. “The city’s patrol deputies, Homeless Liaison Officers and the regional Homeless Outreach Team have proactively been working with individuals encamped near the park. Citations are being issued as allowed by law for non-status violations, such as being in the park after 10 p.m. and narcotics use.”
On Aug. 30, the city closed down its outdoor homeless shelter on Avenida Pico for routine maintenance and cleaning, instructing the 70 or so homeless individuals to remove their belongings from the property early that morning.
By the afternoon, the city had installed new green tents around the inside perimeter of the camp and began imposing its San Clemente-only rule, which required campers to provide proof that they had ties to the city in order to re-enter and stay at the campsite.
Since the new restriction was put in place, the number of homeless individuals staying at the Pico encampment has dropped to about a dozen, a dramatic drop from the roughly 70 campers who had been staying there previously.
The city opened the Pico encampment in May in an effort to remove all of the homeless from the North Beach parking lot, where a tent city had started to form.
Reiterating Braun’s statement, City Manager James Makshanoff acknowledged the precipitous increase in homeless activity at Pico Park, which is located across the street from the Pico camp.
“We’ve heard from residents throughout the city that they’ve seen an increase in homeless people,” he said. “We’ve responded by working with the county health and mental health agencies, as well as the Sheriff’s Department and nonprofits, to offer services and outreach to people at the park.”
Between October 2018 and April 2019, OCSD reported a total of 10 documented incidents at Pico Park, the call logs show. Another four incidents in those call logs represent Patrol Checks, or self-initiated routine activity by police officers, Braun explained.
After the city opened the Pico encampment, OCSD stepped up its self-initiated activity patrols of Pico Park, as the number of reported Foot Patrol and Patrol Checks between May and Oct. 16 rose to 47. Thirty-one of the 36 patrol checks and nine of the 11 foot-patrol checks occurred after Sept. 1.
Officers have “absolutely increased their proactive patrol of the activity at the park,” Braun said.
In total, there were 118 incidents including both calls for service and self-initiated activity between May and mid-October.
Reports categorized as Pedestrian Checks in the call logs are likely self-initiated patrols by officers as well, Braun said. Another categorization in the call logs is for Assist Outside Agency, which is likely officers assisting the Orange County Fire Authority on medical calls when there isn’t an associated crime.
In the six months prior to the city opening the Pico encampment, police service calls centered mostly around disturbances at the park, with only one call for a narcotics violation, one for a suspicious person and one for a traffic stop.
After May, OCSD began responding to reports of drinking in public, warrants for arrest, weapons violations, battery, keeping the peace, trespassing and municipal code violations, according to the call logs.
Braun said that OCSD has been able to issue citations for non-status violations, including being in the park past 10 p.m. and narcotics use. Officers cannot, however, enforce the city’s anti-camping laws—a stipulation of the controversial court ruling in Martin v. City of Boise.
Last year’s Boise ruling bars cities and authorities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances unless “adequate indoor shelter” for the homeless is offered.
“The OCSD has a primary focus on outreach and will not enforce any law criminalizing a homeless subject for illegal camping or loitering in public when they have no other option,” Braun wrote. “This does not forbid deputies from enforcing non-status violations and enforcement of laws on private property.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.