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Neighbors want more dead brush cleared out of University Heights canyon

They've started a petition to ask city for funding
University Heights Canyon 2.png
University Heights Canyon.png
Posted at 10:58 AM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 13:58:46-05

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Calif. (KGTV) - Neighbors in University Heights say the city needs to do more to clear dead brush from a canyon along Washington Street.

The canyon, often called "Camelot Canyon," runs east from the 163 and underneath the popular Vermont Street bridge.

People who live nearby say the brush underneath, combined with homeless encampments, creates a fire hazard.

Their fears came true last March when a massive fire broke out among the palm trees near the bridge. In the aftermath, the fire department ordered CalTrans and the City of San Diego to remove dead brush from the canyon.

Neighbors say they didn't do enough.

"We're trying to get them to finish the job and help suppress wildfires," says Marybeth Chruden. She and a few other people in the neighborhood have started a petition asking the city to fund more clean up efforts.

- Brush fire breaks out near SR-163 at Washington Street
- University Heights Canyon cleanup starts following brush fire
- Councilman wants homeless cleared out after fire near 163

"As soon as you mention the fire, people are eager to sign," Chruden says. Her group is hoping to present at least 1,000 signatures to the City Council at an upcoming meeting.

"If a fire starts in the middle of the night and nobody catches it in time, the palm trees go up, the eucalyptus trees go up, and we could have another fire like what happened in Paradise," says Andy Lange, referencing the fire in Northern California that burned thousands of homes.

The Fire Department says clean up is complicated in the canyon. Part of it is owned and maintained by CalTrans. The rest is city property.

According to Assistant Fire Marshall Eddie Villavicencio, city crews did two cleanups after last spring's fire; one in April and another in July. The delay between the two was a result of waiting for more funding. Also, city code only allowed the crews to clear out dead or dying vegetation, nothing more.

Villavicencio also says the canyon is designated as Open Space and supposed to be left alone to let nature take over. Because of that, there is no requirement for the city to maintain the brush.

CalTrans, meanwhile, has different requirements for their land in the canyon. Chruden and her group say the CalTrans land is maintained and kept clear.

Villavicencio says the Fire Department is always looking for grants to help fund more cleanups in these areas. He also mentions a bigger problem is the homeless camps in canyons, which are typically the cause of fires. That part of the issue is a police and enforcement matter.

Chruden's group says those explanations serve as further proof that the city needs to fund this kind of regular maintenance.

"This is such a wonderful neighborhood, such a good community, and we take pride in it," says Debora Morrison, who has spent time gathering signatures on the bridge. "We're just asking the city to take pride in it as well and clean it up."

The petition can be found here.