Sweetwater River may be impossible to clean because of government red tape

Posted at 5:40 PM, Aug 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-01 20:40:04-04

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. - National City is going to move several homeless out of the Sweetwater River area in its effort to clean up the polluted river.

The Sweetwater River runs between National City and Chula Vista. Thousands of people drive, walk or bike along it every day and see shopping carts, trash and graffiti in the water and along the sides.

"I look at the river, I see the shopping carts in there. It kind of eats at my soul a little bit," said Bonita cyclist Matt Hoffman, who also runs a nonprofit organization.

"We put a proposal into SANDAG not long ago to clean up a bike path and we were turned down on that grant," Hoffman added.

"How do we fix it?" asked 10News reporter Joe Little to National City Mayor Ron Morrison.

"That's the universal question," Morrison replied.

Morrison explained a permit from several agencies from the federal to the local level would be needed in order to get into the river to clean. It's considered a sensitive habitat and going in to pull out a shopping cart without permission is illegal.

Morrison said it could mean a fine or even jail time.

"That's the shame of it," he said.

Morrison blamed the pollution on a growing homeless population popping up in the bushes and trees along the river.

"All that stuff gets washed into the water system and out into the [San Diego] bay," said Morrison.

Morrison said new signage will go up on a piece of land between the Plaza Bonita Mall and the Sweetwater River warning people they are trespassing. The piece of land is zoned for business in National City and is not protected by any other government agency.

Morrison said National City police will go in about a week later to offer the people living in the brush assistance with homeless programs and tell them to leave. Code enforcement will go in within the next two weeks and clear out any camps and trash that are still on the property.

Morrison said they cannot do that for the rest of the river because of all the agency laws protecting the habitat.

"So the same people that are saying we need the environment clean," complained Morrison, "they're claiming, 'But you have to leave the homeless alone.' But it's the homeless that are terrible destroying this environment right now."