By Karen Brainard
County crews have been working at the Montecito Road Bridge to repair damage caused by homeless people living underneath in the Santa Maria Creek bed.
“They were damaging the bridge and damaging the road,” said Jo Beth Lytle, county Department of Public Works (DPW) road crew supervisor for Ramona.
The area under the bridge has been the scene of mattresses, chairs, boxes, piles of trash and holes dug by the homeless for their living quarters. Those holes have affected the bridge and the road above, according to DPW.
“We’re trying to prevent the homeless from digging around the supports and causing damage to the structure of the bridge,” explained Lytle, showing a concrete barrier that crews had installed in front of the bridge pillars to keep people from digging and camping between them and the wall. Still, workers were busy filling a hole that had been dug to the side of the concrete barrier.
According to a spokesperson for DPW, county crews designed and constructed “a support and enclosure system to shore up bridge support and ensure the integrity of the bridge.” Construction costs for materials, equipment and labor since May 2012 have totaled about $80,000, said Michael Drake, communications officer for the county’s Land Use and Environment Group.
In addition, county crews spent $40,000 on brush clearing and cleaning out debris and trash, he said.
Lytle said the crews are filling in holes with “cold mix” that is made of asphalt and hardens and will be more difficult for the homeless to dig out.
Below the south end of the bridge, one man dug out about 30 yards of soil and piled it underneath a pipe that runs above the ground, Lytle said. “He did a tremendous amount of damage,” she noted.
Destruction caused from the digging extended to the road surface where Lytle pointed out cracks in the asphalt. She said DPW crews are repairing the surface of the road by compacting soil underneath and re-paving.
DPW is also fixing a drainage area at the edge of the bridge on the southwest side so rain will run down into the creek instead of flowing into a nearby driveway, said Lytle.
Among those assisting DPW with the manual labor are men and women who are working off court fines by serving on crews through a program with the county probation department.
The concrete area under the bridge is covered with graffiti. Lytle said she hopes to paint over the graffiti this week. Lt. James Bovet of the sheriff’s Ramona station said he prefers all visible graffiti be covered, but there is a catch-22 in that once it’s painted, taggers come back to work on the cleaned surface.
Under the bridge is not the only area homeless people have resided. According to Bovet, they have been digging holes in other areas of the creek bed.