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San Pedro Creek

George Relles

San Pedro Creek


Up the Creek

Adventures in Streambeds


A funny thing happened to four shopping carts, a fan, a heater, a weed whacker, a partial bed frame and two large area rugs, on the way to the ocean in Goleta. They were picked out of Goleta’s San Pedro creek and recycled or hauled to the dump.

Yes, on Saturday morning, September 26, 18 volunteers picked 420 pounds of trash out of San Pedro Creek as part of the annual Creek Week activities that have been going on in Santa Barbara the last 10 years. For a complete review of 2009 events, click click here.

I know about the San Pedro Creek clean up because I was there! San Pedro Creek borders our house on Valdez Avenue. Plus I have been reporting in this column on the importance of maintaining in Goleta’s General Plan substantial setbacks from creeks and sensitive areas. Here was a good opportunity to explore my creek and help in the cleanup, so I decided to join in the fun.

Cleanup organizer, Liz La Rovere, along with John Shields and his son Liam Shields. They organized and worked on the cleanup.
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George Relles

Cleanup organizer, Liz La Rovere, along with John Shields and his son Liam Shields. They organized and worked on the cleanup.

We were met by Liz La Rovere, who organized the creek cleanups in Goleta. She is assistant to the director of Goleta’s Community Services Department. Liz greeted us with the tools we needed-gloves, trash grabbers, buckets, and trash bags-to handle our soon-to-be-found “treasures.” She also provided energy and morale boosters in the form of snacks, water, and tea.

We soon met one of our neighborhood friends, long-time Goleta resident Norma Shinoda, who was returning from her cleanup effort. She had started earlier and had accumulated quite a collection already. “This is actually fun,” Norma said. “I was able to collect so much trash in so little time.” She continued, “It was surprisingly cool down there and I was able to see a part of the creek I never saw before.”

Thanks to Norma and others who had preceded us, we could begin our cleanup efforts farther downstream. We were surprised to find only a few little stray bits of glass and paper and wondered why the creek was so clean and devoid of trash. The mystery was solved in a few minutes when we encountered a returning group of Boy Scouts loaded down with trash they had already gathered. They had about all they could carry and were returning it to the collection point. Before they left, we joined in hefting some larger concrete items out of the creek and onto the banks for later pick up.

Taking over where others had left off, we found there was still plenty to pick up. In addition to paper and wrappers, we found plenty of golf balls, plastic, pipes, rusted metal, and cans that had been discarded in our creek. We pulled part of a rusted metal bed frame from the creek’s banks.

Neighborhood volunteer, Olga Cruz.
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George Relles

Neighborhood volunteer, Olga Cruz.

We were soon joined by other neighbors-Kate Yarbrough, Pat Forrest and Olga Cruz. Most of the volunteers, like us, worked for only two hours or so. Still, by noon, San Pedro Creek from Stow to Calle Real was free of junk and litter, 420 pounds of trash that would otherwise have ended up on our nearby beach and eventually our ocean.

Pat commented that she enjoyed seeing the creek up close for the first time. However, she was disappointed to find so much balloon litter. She knows how hard it is for balloons to break down and how harmful balloons are to fish and wildlife. Pat went on, “Now, even after the cleanup, I find myself picking up litter, just so it won’t flow into the creeks.”

As we walked through the creek, I became increasingly aware of what a beautiful and important resource this creek is for our neighborhood. Creeks not only help keep our homes dry from the rains, they also drain water from our lawns, streets, and mountains, refreshing our ocean. And the creeks are an important part of our eco-system, nurturing trees that provide cooling shade, which is habitat for flora and fauna important to our environment.

Seeing this creek also underscored the need for maintaining setbacks from creeks as Goleta is developed and redeveloped. Goleta’s Planning Commission and soon our City Council will be taking up the issue of reducing setbacks. It’s pretty clear to me that if our neighborhood had been developed with larger setbacks, today our creek would be better protected.

On September 19, Liz led a similar clean up at Ellwood. There, 65 volunteers picked up 650 pounds of trash. “Everything that is manmade that gets into the ocean is a pollutant and it can have detrimental effects on marine life,” Liz said. “Our job is to encourage the public to prevent our trash from getting into the creeks.” Liz also pointed out that this is as much a dollars-and-cents issue as an environmental issue. In this economy, it is vital to tourism to keep our beaches attractive to visitors.

But organizing Creek Week is only a small part of Liz’s duties. She also helps implement Goleta’s Storm Water Management Plan. The state requirements regarding creeks include public education and outreach, increasing public participation, detecting and eliminating illicit discharges, monitoring construction and post construction runoff control, and generally preventing creek pollution. Liz indicated that a new storm water quality website will be developed in the near future to keep people informed about storm water and water quality.

As our foray into San Pedro Creek reminded us, keeping our creeks, beaches, and ocean clean is a responsibility we must embrace year round. Whenever we have the urge to toss something away, watch it float gently off in the distance, we need to remember the ecologist’s motto, “We’re all downstream.”

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