It sounds like San Luis Obispo County wants the Santa Maria Riverbed cleanup remnants to land squarely in the lap of Santa Barbara County

And by cleanup, I really mean clear-out. As in, a clear-out of the miniature cities that have popped up in the riverbed since last year’s flooding pushed them out, visible from Highway 101 in all their tarped, trashy glory! 

By last estimates, between 110 to 150 people are living in the waterway, which is technically in SLO County, and if it gets cleared out, those houseless folks need  shelter beds to go to and services. While Santa Barbara County’s 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson indicated that his county is committed to providing housing for most of them, SLO County’s 4th District Supervisor Jimmy Paulding committed to not much. 

It would appear that SLO County is on the struggle bus, chugging along with not a lot of temporary or transitional housing for homeless people and hundreds-of-people-long waitlists for what little it does have. It sounds like a lot of what SLO County can commit to exists in future land—as in, it hinges on projects that are currently in the works but not realized. 

Plus, SLO County Deputy Director of Social Services Linda Belch said, only 10 percent of the folks who call the riverbed home identify as SLO County residents. And even that 10 percent could overwhelm SLO County’s already stretched services. 

If Santa Barbara County can provide beds, Nelson said, SLO County should provide the enforcement to keep people from returning to the riverbed. SLO County will provide that enforcement, Paulding said, but long-term, it will hinge on a long-planned Sheriff’s Office substation in Nipomo. 

Paulding added that this whole riverbed cleanup thing is going to be complicated. There’s SLO County, Santa Barbara County, and Caltrans in the mix, jurisdiction-wise, plus private properties. How will they ever manage? 

It sure sounds like the sense of urgency between SLO County and Santa Barbara County isn’t exactly equal. Santa Barbara County already has $3 million dedicated to the project and Nelson sounds like he’s ready to move full-steam ahead, while Paulding isn’t. 

“If we use $3 million to clear it, and then the county goes, ‘OK, thanks,’ and doesn’t do anything after that, then it’s all going to be for naught,” Nelson said. “I mean, the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars.” 

Even though SLO County supported the grant that will eventually get used to pay for the cleanup effort, it seems like that’s about all the commitment it wants to give right now. 

I think the real issue is that Santa Maria residents live within eyesight of the riverbed, services in Santa Barbara County (including the grocery store) are closer to the homeless residents in the riverbed, and so Santa Maria is adversely impacted by the encampments. SLO County isn’t. 

Why would SLO County commit to spending taxpayer dollars on something that isn’t a political problem, even if it is a jurisdictional one? Even if the counties share responsibility in the situation. 

If one county is feeling the political pressure and is therefore more willing to take steps to address it, why wouldn’t SLO County just pass the buck?

The Canary is sick of politics and laissez-faire attitudes. Send help to [email protected].

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