A surfer drove by the Will Rogers County Beach Headquarters around 9:30 a.m. on May 18. There were numerous police cars and a community sub-station set up. He asked LAPD Captain Jonathan Tom what was going on.
“We’re looking in restricted areas for people who might be camping,” Tom told him.
“I can get behind that,” the surfer said. “Fire can be a real problem.”
Tom, who is the commanding officer of the West Los Angeles Area, had been at the command post of the May 2021 Highland Fires that had been set by an arsonist. It was then he realized that it would be valuable to have officials from all jurisdictions working together. Shortly after he orchestrated the first task force meeting on June 1, 2021.
“These fires don’t impact just your jurisdiction,” Tom said. “You can’t operate in a silo. When we have relationships and professional contacts, we make it safer for the public. It makes the facilitation that much easier if you know the right person to call.”
The operation was repeated on May 18. “Homelessness is not a crime,” Tom said, but noted that since the Palisades is in the Very High Fire Severity Zone, people are not allowed to camp or start fires.
“It’s a collaboration,” he said, and thanked the Los Angeles Park Rangers, the California State Rangers, the MRCA, Joyce Whitehead of Temescal Canyon, the LAPD off-road motorcycle unit and members of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness and the staff and social workers from the People’s Concern for meeting at 7 a.m. at the beach.
Tom also thanked Senior Lead Officer Brian Espin and PPTFH member Sharon Kilbride for helping to organize the event.
“It’s difficult to get in a lot of the remote hillsides and identify where there might be encampments,” Tom said. “We are limited with our resources, but this way we can come together and be force multipliers.”
Kilbride told the about 50 people assembled that when the task force first started in October 2014, there were 160 camps in fire-prone hillsides. She praised volunteers for helping with cleanups, thanked the social workers who meet with the homeless to get them services and said, “Our partnership with LAPD is why we’re so successful.”
Pacific Palisades Community Council President David Card thanked everyone for coming and reminded everyone that “The Very High Fire Zone is all of the Palisades.”
Espin had prepared maps of eight specific areas: behind the Caltrans wall along PCH, the brush below Via de la Olas, Temescal Canyon Park, Temescal Gateway Park, Asilomar View Park, near the Bel Air Bay Club, Palisades Drive and Castellammare.
This editor went with a group behind the Caltrans wall next to PCH. The nursery owner has stored plants on the Caltrans right of way, and does not secure his pots, or wood, which means that the homeless than take it into the bluffs below Corona del Mar and use it to build encampments.
At times that area has been littered with tents and other items, but today it was relatively clean thanks to Carlos Rodriquez.
Rodriquez, who is a member of the PPTFH, has been hired by the Huntington Homeowners Association to keep the area below Corona del Mar cleared.
There was newly sprayed graffiti on the wall and Rodriquez said that gangs had come in and done it recently.
Rodriquez had just been there a few days earlier, when he discovered a well-entrenched shelter with evidence that a fire had been set. The area was cleared.
He told Circling the News that he is hired to go once a month, but often he comes more than that—especially when Kilbride or the officers let him know there is encampment.
“He does a fantastic job,” Kilbride said about Rodriquez.
PPTFH Volunteer Lou Kamer and a member of LAPD’s beach detail, Adam Margin discovered another campsite in the hillside below Corona del Mar. The mattress and other items were taken out.
Tom is planning other Task Force for next month. “We’d like to do it every month,” the captain said, “but we’re strapped for resources. But we want to keep consistent pressure to make sure no one is illegally camping, because I take the risk of fire seriously.”