Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2022  
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  CalTrans Dodging Responsibility for Cleaning Freeways
February 8, 2022

The Mayor’s Office is a constant recipient of complaints about trash, litter and poor landscape maintenance along the I-80 and I-580 rights-of-way. We don’t see this in wealthier parts of the Bay Area. Much of the trash and litter is associated with homeless camps that never go away and are also associated with periodic fires.

No matter how much effort CalTrans devotes to these conditions, it is not enough, and the complaints continue to pour in.

Figure 1 - Growing encampment at Cutting and Harbour Way on CalTrans interchange right-of-way

Figure 2 - Camp at I-580 overcrossing at Canal

In its most recent response, CalTrans indicated that it is expecting the City of Richmond to shoulder significant responsibility for clearing encampments and relocating homeless individuals on CalTrans right-of-way:

In 2021, Caltrans processed thirty-one encampment relocations (see chart below), some multiple times as the areas along 580 are open and difficult to mitigate with fencing.  Caltrans works closely with Michael Callanan and the CORE team to address encampments as they provide outreach, offering services and housing options.  The encampments noted in your email are in the process of being relocated, yet housing is the best cure to prevent re-encampment.  To that end, Caltrans met with representatives from the City of Richmond to discuss available land for housing options.

In November 2021, Caltrans met with Lina Velasco, Michelle Milam, Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, and SOS staff persons Daniel Barth and Alison Gill to discuss locations for potential RV park or a cabin village.  Also discussed was City of Richmond applying for a Clean CA grant for Boorman Park.  Additionally, as part of Clean California, Caltrans will partner with the City of Richmond for “Free Dump Days” and is planning a hiring event in partnership with RichmondWorks in May.

Caltrans will continue to partner with the City of Richmond to keep the highways safe and clean and to support housing options for people experiencing homeless in Richmond.

I have to protest that Caltrans is unfairly trying to shove this problem onto the City of Richmond. Caltrans has an annual budget of $17.3 billion, while Richmond has a budget of only $188 million, roughly 1% of Caltrans’ budget.. Governor Newsom approved $12 billion last year and $2 billion for FY 2022-23 for homeless programs (

Newsom proposed $2 billion to address California homelessness – including $1.5 billion to buy and set up “tiny homes” and other temporary shelter options, which tend to fall far short of need and which he conceded would only be a “bridge” to permanent housing with services.
While substantial, the governor’s request pales in comparison to the funding he and the Legislature approved last year – $12 billion to create mostly homeless housing and board and care facilities, as well as to fund green-lit affordable housing projects.
“What we’re offering this year is additional money to find a bridge to the permanent supportive housing, and that’s tiny homes, that’s procuring treatment, that’s house slots and shelter slots in the interim,” Newsom said.
The governor projected that the money would mean another 11,000 beds for people experiencing homelessness, on top of 44,000 that will be created with last year’s budget.

Richmond receives no federal or state funding for homeless programs. On the other hand, Contra Costa County receives millions of dollars annually and has substantial staff dedicated to homeless programs. Contra Costa County is in a much better position to be a Caltrans partner than Richmond.

As Caltrans eliminates camps in other cities, such as Berkeley, homeless individuals relocate to Richmond. It is unfair for Caltrans to suggest that Richmond shoulder this problem with RV camps and other programs without the funding and appropriate locations to do so. Caltrans is being part of the problem, not part of the solution. In fact, CalTrans has turned down every request Richmond has made to consider CalTrans right-of-way for a potential RV “safe park” site.

The freeway rights-of-way are a Caltrans responsibility, not a Richmond responsibility. We expect them to be kept continuously clean and free of litter and homeless camps, which is not the case currently. We don’t really want to be CalTrans’ partner; we want CalTrans to take care of its property, and we will take care of ours. This requires constant effort by Caltrans, not a once-a-month cleanup.

CalTrans current response is complaint driven. CalTrans encourages residents to use the Caltrans Customer Service reporting form to notify Caltrans of blight or dumping on State Freeways and roads,. You can use the map to report the location of your concern. To set the marker on the site of your concern within the California State Highway System, click anywhere on the map or drag it. To submit a report visit, or call 916-654-2852. 

However, CalTrans needs to proactively inspect the entire right-of-way on a daily basis to stay ahead of the problem, not depend on sporadic complaints. What they are doing now is not working.

I do agree that housing is the best solution, and CalTrans needs to step up and do its fair share to make that happen.