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Homeowners Hit With $20,000 Bill to Clean Up Homeless Camp

Waste from a homeless encampment along San Lorenzo Creek in Castro Valley, Calif. Local residents are paying the bill to clean it up after authorities cleared out the camp's inhabitants. (Courtesy of Alameda County)

A small group of homeowners in Castro Valley, Calif., are not happy they’ve been stuck with a bill to clean up an abandoned homeless encampment in their neighborhood.

Alameda County has demanded that Walsh Property Management pay about $20,000 to clean up the mess left by the homeless because part of the camp was on land it oversees.

To cover the bill, Walsh charged each of the 75 homeowners in its local Lakewood Home Owners Association (HOA) about $300. The cleanup includes garbage and hazardous waste in the San Lorenzo Creek ravine.

Many of the homeowners are not happy the cost has fallen on them, since they reported the homeless presence to Walsh Property Management a few years ago?—before so much mess had accumulated.

Waste from a homeless encampment along San Lorenzo Creek in Castro Valley, Calif. Local residents are paying the bill to clean it up after authorities cleared out the camp’s inhabitants. (Courtesy of Alameda County)

“The residents alerted Walsh Property [Management] and they didn’t do anything about it,” said Paul Sanftner, a spokesman for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, whose district includes Castro Valley. “The authorities didn’t know about it,” he said.

But, according to owner Ed Walsh, the company was informed there were homeless people in the area, but not that there was an encampment along the creek bed.

“We were told of homeless in the area—no encampment was noted,” Walsh said in an email to The Epoch Times. “The HOA was not certain an encampment was on their property until August 2019. They then informed the county of the problem.”

That’s when the county cleared out the inhabitants and told the HOA it would be held responsible for the cleanup.

Meanwhile, some frustrated homeowners contend Walsh should have known the encampment was on HOA property and that his company should pay at least part, if not all, of the bill.

Walsh told The Epoch Times on Jan. 28 that he has been advised not to speak further with third parties about the issue, however he had earlier told KPIX News he was uncertain about the property lines.

“There are no fences and such that would mark where the property line ended, so we were kind of hoping that it was someone else’s responsibility,” Walsh said on camera. “Unfortunately, this one happened to be on the association’s property.”

The county is not liable to pay the costs of cleanup, Sanftner said.

“Legally, it’s the HOA. It’s the members who own the 75 homes. But the 75 homeowners are upset because they weren’t notified until a few weeks ago when they received a letter from Walsh stating that each resident had to pay $300,” Sanftner said. “So, it was a communication breakdown.”

The HOA is responsible for the common area of land where part of the homeless camp was located, and the property management company “didn’t do its due diligence in policing the open space and alerting residents,” Sanftner said.

“There are some residents who want the county to pay … but it would be a gift of public funds,” he said. “It’s a sticky situation, because we’ve had people who would dump stolen cars on private property, and it’s up to the private property owner to remove them.”

Cleanup of the site is slated for completion by mid-February.

As California’s homeless crisis continues to grow, so does pressure on local and state leaders to do something about the waste. Hazardous waste, such as spent needles and human feces, is often scattered among the trash in homeless camps.

“Homelessness is a statewide issue,” Sanftner said. “This isn’t just specific to Alameda County or to the East Bay of San Francisco. It’s a statewide issue, and people have their assumptions on why it’s so bad.”

The county holds meetings about the homeless crisis several times a month, he said.

“We hired someone full-time just to handle homeless cases. It’s so bad. It’s an issue and there’s a lot of concern about.”

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