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California Non-Profit Sues Calif. Department of Transportation For Failing to Remove “Transients” Adjacent to River

Water with an oily rainbow-colored sheen on top.

Diesel oil spill on the water surface during a light rain storm.

Via a July 31 complaint in the Eastern District of California, the Stewards of the Mokelumne River, a California non-profit public interest group, sued the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and its director, Toks Omishakin. The filing contended that by allowing “transients” to take over and degrade property CalTrans owns on the Mokelumne River bank in San Joaquin County, California, the defendant contributed to river contamination in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and California’s law prohibiting public nuisances.

The site, as described in the complaint, has become a place where transients, who allegedly suffer from “mental illness, drug addiction, and other maladies,” reside. The plaintiff claimed that CalTrans failed to “adequately secure, patrol, or otherwise reasonably maintain the area.” Through this neglect, CalTrans has allegedly violated the RCRA because it “‘contributed [to] or [] is contributing to the… disposal of [] solid [] waste which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.”

The plaintiff contended that the squatters dispose of waste including “human excrement, animal excrement, used feminine hygiene products, and used hypodermic needles,” and “chemicals from drug-making operations, auto parts, bicycles and bicycle parts, propane cylinders, aerosol cans, gasoline containers, and other personal and household items,” on the site, the banks of the river, and into the river itself. These discharges, the plaintiff averred, pose dangers to human health by creating conduits for disease. The complaint also noted that the City of Lodi draws drinking water from the river approximately one mile downstream from the encampment.

The plaintiff asserted that its members, individuals and businesses that own property and reside close to the site, use the Mokelumne River for “recreational purposes such as boating, swimming, and fishing.” The pollution purportedly threatens members with physical harm. They have also reportedly suffered property destruction “by individuals associated with the transient population.”

The complaint averred that the plaintiff is ready to meet and confer with CalTrans to discuss the matter, including possible security implementations. The plaintiff suggested “installing additional fencing and barriers, installing live-feed cameras monitored around-the-clock with the ability to dispatch appropriately qualified personnel in response to unauthorized intruders,” to protect the site. For both its RCRA and public nuisance claims, the plaintiff has sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.

The plaintiff is represented by Isola Law Group, LLP.

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