Alameda County has demanded that Walsh Property Management pay about $20,000 to clean up the mess left by the homeless because part of the camp was on land the company oversees.
To cover the bill, Walsh charged each of the 75 homeowners in its local Lakewood Home Owners Association (HOA) about $300 for the removal of garbage and hazardous waste in the San Lorenzo Creek ravine.
Many of the homeowners aren’t happy the cost has fallen to them, since they reported the homeless presence to Walsh Property Management a few years ago—before much of the mess had accumulated.
“The residents alerted Walsh Property [Management] and they didn’t do anything about it,” said Paul Sanftner, a spokesman for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, whose district includes Castro Valley. “The authorities didn’t know about it.”
But, according to owner Ed Walsh, the company was informed there were homeless people in the area, but not that there was an encampment along the creek bed.
“We were told of homeless in the area—no encampment was noted,” Walsh said in an email to The Epoch Times. “The HOA was not certain an encampment was on their property until August 2019. They then informed the county of the problem.”
That’s when the county cleared out the inhabitants and told the HOA that it would be held responsible for the cleanup.
Meanwhile, some frustrated homeowners contend Walsh should have known the encampment was on HOA property and that his company should pay at least part, if not all, of the bill.
While Walsh told The Epoch Times on Jan. 28 that he’s been advised not to speak further with third parties about the issue, he had earlier told KPIX News he was uncertain about the property lines.
“There are no fences and such that would mark where the property line ended, so we were kind of hoping that it was someone else’s responsibility,” Walsh told KPIX. “Unfortunately, this one happened to be on the association’s property.”
Doretta Carbone, one of the homeowners, said, “To me, it’s inexcusable to let anything go that long, especially since we all know homeless encampments are out of control.”
Carbone said one of her neighbors grew concerned when a homeless man stood watching his daughter for a while. She emailed Harriet Walsh, Ed’s wife, on July 26, 2018, asking her what she intended to do about the homeless problem.
According to Carbone, email exchanges followed, including HOA board members, over the next year.
“Three agencies told [Harriet], ‘This is your property. This is HOA.’ The county is not going to clean it up. It’s not their job. It’s not public works and it’s not the sheriff’s responsibility,” Carbone said.
The county isn’t liable for the cleanup costs, Sanftner said.
“Legally, it’s the HOA. It’s the members who own the 75 homes. But the 75 homeowners are upset because they weren’t notified until a few weeks ago, when they received a letter from Walsh stating that each resident had to pay $300,” Sanftner said. “So, it was a communication breakdown.”
The HOA is responsible for the common area of land where part of the homeless camp was located, and the property management company “didn’t do its due diligence in policing the open space and alerting residents,” Sanftner said.
“There are some residents who want the county to pay … but it would be a gift of public funds,” he said. “It’s a sticky situation, because we’ve had people who would dump stolen cars on private property, and it’s up to the private property owner to remove them.”
The cleanup is expected to be completed by mid-February.
As California’s homeless crisis continues to grow, so does the pressure on local and state leaders to do something about the resulting garbage. Hazardous waste, such as spent needles and human feces, is often scattered among the trash in homeless camps.
“Homelessness is a statewide issue,” Sanftner said. “This isn’t just specific to Alameda County or to the East Bay of San Francisco. It’s a statewide issue, and people have their assumptions on why it’s so bad.”
The county holds meetings about the homeless crisis several times a month, he said.
“We hired someone full-time just to handle homeless cases. It’s so bad. It’s an issue there’s a lot of concern about.”