SANTA ANA, Calif. (CBSLA/AP) — Authorities clearing homeless encampments along the Santa Ana River have found at least two makeshift underground bunkers, including one that contained more than a thousand bicycles.
Officials in Orange County say the bikes found in the tunnel system under a concrete flood control channel could suggest a large-scale theft ring.
The county has spent about a week evicting dozens of homeless people who have been living in encampments along the riverbed and flood-control channel after concerns were raised about unsanitary conditions and other nuisances.
The Orange County Register reported Friday that authorities also found a half-loaded .357 Magnum that contained three empty shell casings — meaning it had been fired.
The newspaper says one underground bunker had wood-paneled walls and a support beam, and was accessible only via a hatch camouflaged to blend in with its dirt surroundings.
Beginning Nov. 10, Orange County permanently closed the west side of the flood control channel between West 17th Street in Santa Ana and Adams Avenue in Fountain Valley.
Since Nov. 3, Orange County Sheriff’s deputies have been strictly enforcing public access hours along the Santa Ana River Trail. Access is only allowed between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
In September, the O.C. Board of Supervisors approved a plan to increase law enforcement along the riverbed from Santa Ana to Anaheim, where more than 400 transients are estimated to live. The O.C. board voted in June to direct staff to come up with a plan for law enforcement in the area, which is owned by the Orange County Flood Control District, a separate legal entity.
Part of the plan involves pushing the transients out of the riverbed areas to help them get back on their feet elsewhere.
The issue has come to the forefront in O.C. The Santa Ana City Council in September declared the number of homeless living around the Santa Ana Civic Center a public health and safety crisis and created a full-time homeless services manager position.
That same month, the Anaheim City Council declared a state of emergency over the issue.
“The crisis in the river bed puts those living in the camps at risk as well as those in the communities,” Anaheim City Councilwoman Kris Murray said at the time. “There are criminal elements taking hold in these areas. Threatening the homeless and residents. We have our own winter storm season coming and the flood control channel presents risk for lives who are there.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)