Mayor Mederos, councilman Sigala blame Gov. Newsom for not allowing cities to remove homeless from embankment
By Paul Myers and Reggie Ellis
TULARE – A homeless person was struck and killed on Highway 99 in Tulare, but Mayor Dennis Mederos isn’t blaming the driver or the person in the road. He is blaming Governor Gavin Newom, and so is a member of his council.
The mayor issued a press release on Feb. 5 and stated that preliminary reporters indicated that around 8 p.m. last Thursday, Feb. 4, “a pedestrian was killed trying to cross State Route 99.” The accident apparently occurred on the freeway near the overpass at Prosperity Avenue. Reports also indicate that the person struck on Highway 99 lived in an adjacent homeless encampment on the freeway right of way.
Mederos stated in the release that the city has been, “extremely concerned for the health and safety of those living in encampments along [State Route 99] within the city limits of Tulare, and also for the safety of the tens of thousands of motorists, maintenance workers and emergency responder who travel this freeway.”
Last year while Tulare was calling for help when homeless were camping out near the highway, the city reached out to the governor’s office and CalTrans. Then mayor Jose Sigala focused a letter dated Nov. 17, 2020 on trash and debris stemming from the encampment, and public safety.
Sigala said in the three months leading up to last November he has seen a rise in the number of homeless and homeless encampments in Tulare—particularly along the top of the ridgeways of 99.
“There’s concerns about the things that they bring, their goods that fall down into the freeway,” Sigala said, “also the blight they create along the freeway where it meets with businesses.”
The letter identifies Highway 99 as one of the most dangerous highways in the country, and cites an Oct. 19 incident where debris was thrown from an encampment onto the freeway, causing a significant traffic backup. Sigala said when driving through Tulare on 99, there is an expectation motorists are going to be as safe as possible.
“You’re not necessarily thinking about a suitcase, a shopping cart or something tumbling down from the side of the freeway that would cause an accident,” Sigala said last year.
Now that a person has been killed Sigala is calling on Newsom to “wake up.”
“I am hoping this will wake up the governor and Caltrans to pay attention to this issue. I am putting it squarely on the governor’s shoulders. I certainly have a few choice words to the governor and Caltrans on this issue,” Newsom said.
Maderos attached a copy of the November letter to his press release. He added that the city council had not received a response, at least as of Feb. 5. He added that the city cannot lawfully move homeless away from the dangerous arterial highway.
“Tulare understands that under the law, if shelter accommodations are not available for people experiencing homelessness, these individuals have a right to shelter in public places,” the mayor’s press release states. “However, safety for all our citizens has to require limits relating to this right to shelter.”