Commentary: County should control homeless and fires in Talbert

The time has come to consider solving the homeless problem in Talbert Regional Park.

I recently received a call from my wife, informing me that my family was forced to evacuate our house on Seabird Court in Newport Beach because there was another fire in the southernmost portion of the county-controlled park.

As you might know, the nature preserve is a beautiful park with hiking trails where guests can view unspoiled Orange County — on the north side of Victoria Street. The area on the south side of Victoria is unkempt with neglected trails, myriad homeless enclaves and fires. Lots of fires.

We have lived at this location for less than two years, but there have been more than a few fires across the street in the park. I have lost count of the exact number, but I can say for sure that there have been four significant fires in the last 20 months and about one every other month.

It does not take an arson investigator to know who is starting the fires. It's the homeless people who live, undisturbed, in the park. Search the area of origin for each fire and you will find sleeping bags, trash, clothing and other belongings.

When is enough, enough? I understand that people who are homeless need somewhere to go, but the danger that the fires present is just unacceptable. We live in a beautiful community that is close to the beach, shopping and restaurants, but my wife wants to move because of the fires.

I spoke to a Newport Beach police officer about the homeless problems and he agreed that, indeed, it is a problem but neither his department nor the Costa Mesa police have jurisdiction to enforce the municipal codes of their respective cities on county-operated land. So we are to rely on the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

When was the last time the county made any effort to control the homeless problem in the park? With what frequency are deputies dispatched to attend to the park?

I work as a middle school teacher and know firsthand that if you do not discourage an unacceptable behavior, that behavior will continue and in most cases get worse. By ignoring the problem, the county has put all of the residents of Newport Terrace, the West Bluff neighborhoods and Westside Costa Mesa at risk.

Who will be to blame when the next fire jumps over the road in front of my house and ignites one of the many highly flammable eucalyptus tress that line our streets and fill our meadow? Who will be to blame when the sparks from the next wildfire jump the road and ignite our aging roofs?

KARL PETERSON lives in Newport Beach.

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