I took my 12-year-old son, Coby, on his first fly fishing float on the Sacramento River last week. We put in at Park Marina (thanks Chris Kutras) and drifted to the John F. Reginato River Access at South Bonnyview Road with local Fly Shop guide, Ian Stratte. I watched with joy the birth of a fly fisherman. Under the patient teaching of guide Ian, Coby hooked and netted a beautiful Rainbow Trout at the river’s bend just below the bluffs of Bechelli Lane, where crews are hard at work on the new Costco, just upstream from the proposed site for the relocation of Win River Resort & Casino, but I digress…
Longing to experience that think-like-a-fish “A River Runs Through It” moment is what compels thousands of often affluent people to migrate like salmon from the Bay Area and beyond to fish the pristine waters of the Lower Sac in Redding, hoping to feel the tug of the line and for a brief moment forget about the stress and troubles of daily life. Yet, we know we live in an imperfect world with people dealing with their own stress and troubles more complicated than we can know or truly understand unless we have walked in their shoes. That said, the role of the Redding Chamber of Commerce is to support the local business community, and now with the additional function as Visit Redding, our organization is doing its best to grow the number of visitors vacationing in this incredible basecamp for unlimited outdoor adventure. So when I got the call that due to the deteriorating condition of Redding’s riverfront, many local fishing guides are now choosing to drift the river downstream from Redding and recommend that their clients stay in other communities, it was time for the Chamber to take action. Actually, more accurately, it was time to convene a meeting with City officials, the fly fishing community, and local nonprofits who serve the unsheltered in some capacity. The main objective of the meeting held on July 28th was to give the fly fishing industry representatives an opportunity to share concerns and for the City of Redding representatives to communicate their plan to address unpermitted camping and the garbage in and next to the river, primarily under and around the Cypress Street Bridge and nearby Nur Pon Open Space (formerly the Henderson Open Space).
Nur Pon Open Space Side Channel Salmon Habitat Project
In Winneman Wintu language, Nur Pon means “Salmon Run”. It is a name befitting of the location on the eastside of the Sacramento River, which now features two bridges that span a side channel, recently created to give juvenile salmon a fighting chance at survival. A major driver in the implementation of this project is the near global extinction of the Winter Run Chinook Salmon. I actually did a term paper on the depletion of this particular salmon run as part of a Political Science class at Shasta College in 1998. What I recall is that the numbers have dropped precipitously following the construction of both Shasta Dam and the now-removed Red Bluff Diversion Dam. Fish get funding. This project was expensive and is in coordination with other strategic locations along the mighty Lower Sacramento. While on the recent float of the river, I was struck by the environmental irony of this investment to save the salmon in juxtaposition with garbage strewn among the spawning grounds and even a makeshift fish trap in place no doubt to poach a meal to be cooked over a warming fire. Environmental degradation is another significant motivation for this clean-up effort.
Assembly Bill 2633
In response to similar environmental and public safety concerns along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, state lawmakers have proposed legislation that would give further backing to enforce unpermitted camping. Tenessa Audette, representing Senator Brian Dahle’s office, and in partnership with the Chamber, led a letter writing campaign and successfully received Redding City Council and Shasta County Board of Supervisors support for an amendment of AB2633 to include the Sacramento River in Shasta County over the past couple weeks. According to the County, “If amended, AB 2633 would allow the County to remove persons engaged in the act of unpermitted camping or to clear unpermitted campsites from the areas surrounding the Sacramento River in Shasta County. Unpermitted camping along the Sacramento River contributes to a number of adverse factors such as increased threat of wildfires, contamination of lands and waters, and displacing wildlife.”. While the fate of this particular piece of legislation is uncertain, its proposal has generated additional attention for what is a very complex challenge for communities throughout the country.
Action Plan in Motion
Throughout the month of August, the City of Redding has begun to execute the plan to clean up the riverfront. Leading this coordinated effort on the ground is the RPD Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT). This has included notification of those camping in the public open space, making them aware of available resources (including immediate housing opportunities, mental health services, drug addiction treatment, veterans services and more). It was reported in recent days that more than seven 30-yard dumpsters have been filled with thousands of pounds of trash and debris. Other aspects of the City’s plan:
- Installed a permanent fence around Nur Pon Open Space and established park hours to discourage loitering and enforce illegal camping.
- Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller committed to daily patrols/sweeps of Nur Pon Open Space.
- Redding City Council approved the hiring of four Park Rangers to patrol Caldwell Park, Sacramento River Trail, Nur Pon Open Space and the boat launches at the Posse Grounds and South Bonnyview.
- Redding City Council approved the construction of a 3D printed caretaker’s home at the South Bonnyview boat launch.
- The City of Redding is committed to ongoing community clean-up opportunities in partnership with other local organizations such as Trout Unlimited, United Shasta, and the general community.
In addition to the action plan above, there is currently and will continue to be a comprehensive approach to make unsheltered individuals aware of the services that are readily available to them. Anecdotally, we have heard that 11 individuals living on the riverfront were placed in housing by local service providers. Additionally, Nation’s Finest has fast-tracked 4 homeless veterans into housing. I also realize that there are others who have refused help and have simply moved to other parts of town. This is going to require ongoing attention on the part of the private & public sectors and local nonprofit organizations. As I have said before, the difference between a community that wins or loses comes down to its resolve and steadfast commitment to not give up. Redding has once again rolled up its sleeve and not thrown in the towel. Allowing people to live in unhealthy conditions does not do anyone any good. The Chamber will continue to advocate on behalf of the business community, fly fishing industry, hospitality and tourism partners and work with the City of Redding, County of Shasta, and affiliated organizations to stay the course.
Admittedly, I could have written a book on the reasons why people find themselves in a situation of living in a homeless encampment. CalMatters released a detailed account as to the top reasons in California (lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, mental health issues, etc.). It has been suggested that one way we can all help is to utilize our public spaces in a way in which they are intended. I see a Chamber walk at Nur Pon Open Space in our future. If you would like to engage in this complicated issue in some way or have a thought on this topic, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President & CEO