The City of Livermore resumed cleanups of the creek homeless encampment last week, after a pause in early March as attention was diverted to the city’s COVID-19 response.
The number of people recently observed living in the Arroyo Las Positas Creek area south of I-580 shrank significantly over the last year, but recent reports from nearby residents of frequent out-of-control fires, drug use and bullying remain.
There were reports by Livermore Police homeless liaisons of recently released pretrial inmates from Santa Rita Jail moving to the creek area, possibly changing the dynamics of the encampment.
“We’ve been focused, rightly so, on homeless, but I don’t want us to lose sight of the people who live near the homeless, and how they’re feeling – not only about their own health, but their safety in proximity to the folks who are living in the creek area,” said Livermore City Councilman Robert Carling, chair of the council’s subcommittee on homelessness.
Since June 1, Carling said there have been about two dozen brush fires reported along the creek. Walking the area prior to the most recent cleanup, Carling reported he saw needles everywhere, presenting a health hazard.
He also saw signs of intimidation among creek residents, including an instance where someone took a woman’s stuffed animals and lynched them in a tree, apparently to warn the woman that she was not welcome there, he said.
Carling suggested looking for ways to discourage people from camping along the creek, especially along a residential stretch of Paseo Laguna Seco, where residents have said they are afraid to even walk along the winding pedestrian path along the creek because of illicit activities. He asked if the city might consider increasing cleanups or having police patrol the area for illegal campfires.
City Councilwoman Trish Munro, who also serves on the Homelessness Subcommittee, said ultimately, she does not want anybody living by the creek, but instead would like to see people in housing, because it is better for them, and also because the creek is a water source that needs protecting. But she grappled with the city’s limited options.
Many of the issues at the encampment stem from mental health and substance abuse problems, which the city government is not equipped to handle. Before the pandemic, police could temporarily arrest people suspected of illegal drug activity. Police Capt. Matt Sarsfield reported the accused are frequently cited and released with a bus ticket, often returning the same day.
“We don’t have a lot of options for consequences, to use the word I used with my children,” Munro said. “Which makes it more difficult to establish healthier living conditions, so I just want us to keep that in mind, because it makes what we’re trying to do much more challenging.”
Livermore’s homeless liaison officers led a number of creek cleanups last year, starting in March 2019. At the time, 20 tons of trash were removed, and between 55 to 60 unsheltered people were counted living in the Arroyo Los Positas Creek area, said Police Capt. Matt Sarsfield.
During last week’s cleanup, concentrating on the creek between Portola Avenue and Las Colinas Road, about 8 tons of trash were removed, along with two 40-yard dumpsters filled with debris. The number of people living in that area had dropped to about 25, Sarsfield said. Of those, several agreed to relocate to a new Livermore hotel that began opening rooms last month to older and medically at-risk homeless people to provide temporary shelter during the pandemic.
The entire 112-room Residence Inn by Marriott near the San Francisco Premium Outlets was leased by Alameda County last month as part of a statewide push to secure 15,000 hotel rooms and trailers to provide temporary shelter for homeless people during the pandemic.
Paul Spence, Livermore’s community development director, said 34 families, which includes 46 people in all, now occupy rooms; another 28 people identified for the program are waiting to move in pending medical verification. The program also provides meals, laundry service, case management and medical coordination. Abode Services, the nonprofit property manager for the hotel under a contract with the county, also works to find permanent housing for some of the residents, Spence said.
Livermore, County COVID-19 Infection Rate Still High, But Improving
For the first time since the start of summer, Livermore’s rate of COVID-19 spread is on the decline.
Livermore’s case rate continues to be higher than its Tri-Valley neighbors, but slightly below the countywide average of 7.8 new cases per 100,000 residents.
“Good news is that, in Livermore, our rate of new cases has dropped from about 10 new cases a day in the July/early August timeframes to now between four and five new cases a day in the last few weeks,” Livermore City Manager Marc Roberts told the city council at its Sept. 14 meeting.
The new testing data from the Alameda County Public Health Department mirrors a recent drop in the countywide transmission rate according to estimates using the Local Epidemic Modeling for Management and Action predictive model that accesses hospital data.
As of Sept. 5, the predicted median infection rate in Alameda County stands at .69, down from .90 last week, and a peak in June of 1.24, Roberts reported. An infection rate of one means that every person with COVID-19 transmits the virus to one other person.
Under the state’s new Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which consolidated and unified California’s approach to reopening, each county falls into one of four colored tiers: purple, red, orange or yellow. Alameda County remains in the purple tier, which is the most restrictive due to the prevalence of COVID-19 and the extent of community spread.
The county can move into the red tier if for three weeks the daily case rate drops to fewer than 7 per 100,000 population and the test positivity rate remains below 8%. Currently, the countywide testing positivity rate is 5%. People between 18 and 50 continue to have the highest rates of infection. Latinos in the county continue to be particularly hard hit with an infection rate of more than double the county average.
Small Businesses Can Still Apply for Pandemic Grants Up to $20,000
Since the Livermore City Council approved allocating up to $2 million to provide small business relief grants of up to $20,000 per business two weeks ago, the city processed 67 applications and more than $850,000 in requested reimbursements.
The program offers matching grants for capital expenses needed to remain competitive during the pandemic. About half of the expenses were ineligible for reimbursement because they were operating expenses, such as payroll, rent and utilities, which are outside the bounds of the program that only covers capital expenses, Roberts said.
To qualify, an applicant must be a licensed and insured Livermore business with at least two employees and with gross annual receipts of $10 million or less. Expenses covered include measures taken to protect employees and customers, and compliance with state and county public health orders. The first $155,000 in qualifying expenses are expected to be dispersed to businesses as soon as this week.
Livermore Equity and Inclusion Panel Expands
The city council’s anti-racism initiative is increasing the number of seats at the table.
Spurred by the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others and the Black Lives Matters movement, in June the council formed the Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee, appointing Vice Mayor Bob Woerner and Munro as co-chairs.
The purpose of the panel was to develop and implement a framework for community outreach and engagement to conduct a public review of the Livermore Police Department’s use of force policies and practices for incidences of structural discrimination and implicit bias. The subcommittee was also tasked with looking at issues of equity and inclusion across the community, with a broad range of subject areas, such as, human services and housing.
After a round of meetings earlier this summer, Woerner and Munro brought an initial framework, which the council approved, calling for a working group of up to 18 members.
An outpouring of interest from the public since then resulted in 48 applicants for 18 positions and prompted the subcommittee members to revise their thinking about making it a smaller panel.
“We didn’t want to start with excluding people,” Woerner said.
The city council agreed and voted to accept all 48 applicants, which is expected to change over time through attrition and the addition of new members.
Munro said the large number of members will be manageable, because the larger group will break into separate groups to address different areas of interest. She noted the members will help to spread information and “bring people together in different ways.”