Santa Barbara- S County

Immediate cleanup ordered at long time Summerland homeless camp

Recent fire and trespassing led to action plan

Homeless camps on a Summerland hillside are being cleared out after a recent fire, and months of complaints about the illegal dwellings. (John Palminteri/KEYT photo)

SUMMERLAND, Calif. - A Summerland homeless camp that's been around for an estimated 20 years is now going through an immediate cleanup on the orders of Union Pacific police.

The site near Evans Road is down an embankment of U.S. Highway 101.

Access has been from the freeway shoulder or the railroad right-of-way. Both are illegal areas for the public to use for this purpose.

Rodney Ronstadt says he has lived quietly there for years off an on, without any problems or safety issues. Recently others have started camps nearby.

A portion of the site was accidentally set on fire Oct. 16, 2017, when a homeless man was cooking a meal. That caught a blanket on fire and also his living area. Multiple fire units were dispatched to douse the area with water.

The environmental group Heal the Ocean and others were outraged at the risk of the debris-covered hillside to the ocean nearby.

The location has been tricky because no one agency could clearly say the camps were on their land.

NewsChannel 3 contacted the State Department of Transportation, Union Pacific, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department and the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District.

Fire Chief Ray Navarro recently said an action plan was in motion due to the on-going risks to lives, property, the highway, and the environment.  

Those living on the site were given a warning to move recently by Union Pacific and Sheriff's deputies. There were three locations and about six people living there. One camp was nestled into a hillside.

"A week and a half ago, they came knocking on my door and said this was railroad property and I would have two days to leave. They come today and they said we have to leave," said Ronstadt.

Cleanup crews have arrived on the scene. Those living there are gathering their belongings.

Some are transferring their possessions into a storage area. Others are leaving items at the site.

Ronstadt says he will find some other place to stay nearby. It's where he has lived for years.   When asked if he would be OK,  Ronstadt said, "of course.  As far as I know."

He wants to live in the open area and does not want government assistance if he can live without it.


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