Fishing for shopping carts in the Kern River. It's an unusual sight but it's exactly what happened at 6 a.m. Wednesday as part of a two-day homeless camp cleanup.
Last week, city of Bakersfield officials posted notices on areas where camping is prohibited. The signs cited a city law prohibiting sleeping, camping, or having any kind of shelter on any public city property, said Associate City Attorney Richard Iger.
"The riverbed is not designed for human habitation," Iger said. "There are no facilities for hygiene, no security, and diseases can spread and affect the community if they continue to live there."
Although the city has cleared camps along the river before, this is the first year that it is done so on a large scale.
"The city used to just clean up one or two camps before, but we put notices on 38 camps this past week," Iger said. The larger cleanup was spurred by the large amount of trash that was accumulating.
About 30 city staff members helped clear out these camps, along with members of the water, parks and recreation and police and fire departments.
Along with signs telling people they had to vacate the area, a notice was issued that gave homeless people the opportunity to attend a hearing in court to state their opinion on the property being seized, but nobody attended the hearing, Iger said.
Along the Kern River by Riverview Playground Park in Oildale, more than 20 shopping carts could be seen from above the riverbank.
"Stores up and down California have shopping cart issues where homeless use these carts to carry their belongings and the carts end up in rivers," said Brian Raymond, director of operations of California Shopping Cart Retrieval Corp. Removing shopping carts from store property is illegal, Raymond said.
The carts Raymond and his team fished out Wednesday morning were mostly from FoodMaxx and Save Mart stores. They collected 58 carts just on Wednesday.
Shopping carts can weigh up to 70 pounds but with soot and water, they can weigh three times more. It takes a lot of upper-body strength to pull them out of the water, said Robert Astorga, a contractor with the cart retrieval service.
"The Costco carts are the heaviest and you have to make sure to aim the hook at a good spot that can give you enough stability to pull it up," Astorga said.
To get the cart out of the river, Astorga aimed at the cart, using a rope with a hook at the end. He then threw the rope and hoped the hook latched onto the cart, If not he would try again. Once he caught the cart, he threw the end of the rope up to two other guys and they all pulled at the same time to bring the cart out slowly.
On the other side of the river, a homeless couple with their dog carried yellow and green backpacks and loaded them up to a small green wagon, attached to an old rusted blue bike. They were getting all of their belongings out of the area before the city clean-up crew went through.
"It's sad that they are kicking us homeless out of what we have established as a home," said the man, who didn't want to give his name. "We have been moving down the river for the past eight months and now we don't know where to go."
The couple had established their camp under four trees that provided shade during the day. There were pieces of cardboard, old sheets, two small pillows, a broken gray boom-box, a gray tent, an empty dog food bag, a camouflage hat and a couple of sweaters on the grass.
"We were living in this area with four other homeless and they all just packed up and left yesterday," the man said. "But we wanted to stay because we had a couple of more things to pack before heading off to who knows where."
Iger respects the concerns of the homeless people who are being cleared from the river, but said the city's goal at the end of the day is to get them to a better option than living by the river.
"They feel they have nowhere to go but part of this operation is to inform them that they do have other options where they can get help, especially with so many non-profit organizations in the city that are willing to help them," Iger said.