The property where a group of homeless people have set up camp for years behind Old Town Center in downtown Los Gatos belongs to Caltrans, officials said this week.
And its occupants seem to have vacated the area, according to Caltrans workers who inspected the site on Monday and Tuesday.
About seven individuals have been making their home there for several months as various nearby merchants and residents complained about the problem. However, security personnel at Old Town Center and those who want the spot cleaned up say the homeless have been there for years, helped by good Samaritans in Los Gatos and St. Luke's Episcopal Church.
Evidence of the hardship of their living conditions is the alarming amount of trash that's been left behind down a steep slope that drops from the south wall of Old Town Center to a water canal that used to be the Los Gatos Creek, but is now the Lexington Dam spillway, said Caltrans spokesman Bernard Walik.
Last Friday, after being contacted by Los Gatos Patch about the issue, Walik said he notified his regional maintenance manager about the camp and began inquiries as to whether the property belonged to Caltrans.
On Monday Oct. 8, the agency was still trying to sort out who was responsible for the property. The Town of Los Gatos said through Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police Sgt. spokesman Kerry Harris that the land didn't belong to the town.
"The area in question is very hard to reach and probably [would] require individuals to rappel down the hill," Walik said.
Caltrans officials spoke to Los Gatos engineers and were searching for maintenance agreement records for the site, he added.
This week, on Tuesday morning, Walik said he visited the area with maintenance personnel and met with town engineer Kevin Rohani and Steve Regan to assess the property.
At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Caltrans posted a 72-hour notice for individuals to vacate the area, although Walik said the homeless seem to have left.
"We've been working with homeless people and organizations that care for the homeless for many years. We do our best to interact with homeless people in a respectful and humane manner. When we post the sign advising of our intention to clean out the camp, we list a phone number people can call to claim their belongings," Walik said.
Caltrans plans to send in contractors in the next coming days to review, quote and develop a plan to cleanup the area. A fence near the Los Gatos Creek Trail foot bridge that was cut open will be temporarily repaired until the area is cleaned, Walik said.
Caltrans will then install a permanent fence to deny access to the agency's right-of-way as is standard procedure across the state, he added.
Walik indicated Caltrans will also work with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to monitor the area and strive to keep individuals from gaining access to state and water district property after the cleanup and repairs are complete.
"What [our maintenance team] thought would be a quick-fix turned out to be a more extensive repair," Walik said.
A more permanent repair during the transition to clean the area has been selected, and on Tuesday and Wednesday Caltrans workers lined up the field support they needed to "move as quickly as possible, while provide people plenty of time to vacate the area," Walik said.
The new fence to secure the camp site and the littered slope, about 75-feet-wide by 60-feet-down, is more secure than previous ones that were broken down, Walik said.