City picks up trash and debris mobilized by rain storm
As per usual with rain storms in Santa Barbara, the downpours over the week moved around a lot of trash and debris throughout the city.
The city’s Creeks Division, along with many other city departments and nonprofits, is working to clean it all up and prevent any further runoff into the ocean.
The fact that this was the first significant rain storm in several months means that the creeks began moving for the first time in several months as well.
According to Creeks Division Manager Cameron Benson, there’s always a certain amount of debris when the creeks get moving.
“The thing I’ve seen most down at the beaches is woody debris, branches and tree trunks, that kind of thing,” he told the News-Press. “There’s some kelp you get when you have high surf and storm situations and that’s mostly what I see.”
Regarding trash scattered around, Mr. Benson said other than picking it up after the storm, litter must be prevented before the storm occurs. The city’s prevention efforts include providing public service announcements and sufficient trash receptacles for the public.
In addition, city crews ensure all creek channels are cleared of any trash as the rainy season approaches, in addition to the city’s street sweeping program, 1,200 storm drains and a full-time contractor that goes out four to five days a week to clean trash out of creeks and along the beaches.
Mr. Benson said that 80% of Santa Barbara’s curb miles are cleaned through the street sweeping program, picking up more than 4 million pounds of debris every year. The Creeks Division crews remove more than 50 tons of trash every year from the creeks and ditches.
“I have a crew out on the beach today that’s picking up trash,” Mr. Benson said on Friday. “Mostly what I saw down there around creek mouths and beaches was plastic bottles, bottle caps, some glass bottles, bits of styrofoam. It’s generally small, pollutable stuff like that.”
He added that not all of what ends up on Santa Barbara beaches came from Santa Barbara or its creeks; rather, it comes from up the coast.
Those cleaning up this time around have encountered additional problems with trash from homeless encampments, which could be attributed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that advises leaving encampments alone so as to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“It definitely became a bigger issue this year than it had in the past as a result of that (guidance),” Mr. Benson said. “There’s trash, garbage and human waste there, and that’s a very serious pollution issue and contamination issue.
“There’s also a human safety issue for people who are camping down there. Not only all their stuff is washed away, but people could be washed away.”
He said that towards the end of 2020, the Creeks Division focused on removing encampments from the creeks, and it took several weeks.
“You’ve got two public safety things pushing against each other,” Mr. Benson said. “We can’t have people using the creeks as a latrine… The city is working to ensure the public health and safety, and not just blindly plowing ahead and letting those other public health hazards develop.”
However, he said the good news is the forecast indicates that the bulk of the rain has passed, and the creeks are now flowing.
“I went out to check out our projects and where we’ve had issues in the past,” Mr. Benson said. “I didn’t see any new issues, but a lot of parents and kids were coming out and standing on the bridges, watching the creeks fill up with water.
“It’s really nice to see that and I encourage people to get out and check them out. It’s a beautiful sight.”
Heal the Ocean Executive Director Hillary Hauser told the News-Press that the nonprofit organization has been paying for a street sweeping service on Channel Drive and looking for solutions to homelessness in the city.
In her view, the encampments are a big problem and result in a lot of the trash in the ocean.
“The homeless population has grown, of course, by leaps and bounds with the current pandemic and the current joblessness, so something’s got to happen,” she said. “We’ve got water coming from everywhere washing the whole town. It’s really, really hard to control sources.”
Ms. Hauser said the group has brainstormed many ideas to house the unsheltered and works with local fire departments to clean out camps, particularly those that pose fire hazards, and helps fund agencies that assist the homeless population as well.
Health the Ocean Advisory Board member Harry Rabin also created an interactive map with all the homeless camps near the southern coast of the county.
“Of course, what we would like to do is get everybody sheltered, and we’ve talked about everything from a 20-acre site to building a tent village with an infirmary and a cafeteria,” she said. “All of that is still on the table, but the sanitation thing is really horrendous because of all that stuff in Mission Creek, in Arroyo Burro… They (encampments) are practically everywhere and they don’t have sanitation. So if we’re under orders not to touch, that’s a problem.”
The city encourages residents to ensure the trash they’re throwing away makes it into the cans, and to be generally responsible when it comes to picking up trash.