A string of complaints from residents alleging a scandalous summer-long dumping spree by Ralphs has led the grocery story on De la Vina Street to clean up its act. The store was accused of dumping “really foul water” into Mission Creek, according to the City of Santa Barbara’s creeks czar Cameron Benson. The spillage was further described by Ralphs neighbor Marla Wilson as “grease and oil and generally putrid contents.” She said area residents had to put up with “foul odor and pollution to the creek and ocean.”
The pollution was discovered by Vernon Meche, the president of the Villa Alamar Owners Association, who noticed a trail of waste flowing into Mission Creek a couple weeks ago, and followed it back to the Ralphs parking lot. Following that investigation, the city’s Creeks Division issued fines and got the grocer to take measures to correct the situation.
The maximum fine for violating the city’s water quality contamination codes is $250, an amount that some believe hardly made a dent in the large corporation’s wallet. “The fines were the only remedy available to us. It’s a challenging situation,” explained Benson. “We have explained to them what they should be doing. What we’re really interested in is cleaning up this situation.”
It wasn’t easy to pinpoint the problem. Eddie Harris of the Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Division Council conducted additional investigation for added pressure on Ralphs. “I took a look around and tried to find evidence of dumping, but I didn’t find a smoking gun,” said Harris, who walked through the creek that borders the shopping center.
“We took it very personal,” said Ralphs spokesperson Kendra Doyel. “There were concerns from the health department, but they are now very comfortable with the state of our store. We’ve worked very hard to foster a positive relationship with the community,” she added.
Doyel said that the grocery store has now covered the drainage pipes in the parking lot. When the sanitation and storm departments came out to take a look, “They proposed a solution that includes the system being sanitized once a month, in addition to a pumping system that is in place. Both departments agree this is the best solution, and both have signed off saying it’s in great shape.” She added that when Ralphs asked the two departments what does drain through into the riverbed, “They said everything from the neighborhood [does] except Ralphs.”
Concerned residents will continue to monitor the grocery store’s practices. “I hope they don’t see the creek as a toilet from this point on,” Wilson commented.