As many as 40 of the hundreds of cleanup crew members hired after the Refugio Oil Spill spent time at Tropicana Student Living in Isla Vista. But their six-week stay in the college town ended shortly after a worker was arrested for driving under the influence on June 25. “It wasn’t an issue until it became an issue,” said one official at a recent meeting in Isla Vista.
Sheriff’s deputies and UCSB police officers pulled the car over that Friday evening on a standard DUI stop. As it turned out, the others in the car had gang affiliations or criminal records, said Foot Patrol Lieutenant Rob Plastino, and they told the law enforcement officials they were in town working on the oil spill clean up. He added they were all very cooperative.
Plastino worked with the security deputy at the Unified Command post — the multiagency response working on the spill for nearly two months — to get in touch with Patriot Environmental Services, the emergency response firm that provided workers to scrape the oil off of rocks at Refugio and beaches nearby. They tracked down all the guys, Plastino said, and moved the cleanup crew out of Isla Vista quickly. “[Isla Vista] is not the environment for someone on parole or a gang affiliated past to be in,” he said. “That said, these guys weren’t causing problems outside of a DUI driver.”
Tropicana Gardens Executive Director Dave Wilcox said between 20 and 40 cleanup crew members stayed in about eight units at the student housing property, which rents to groups over the summer. Wilcox said he did not know if the crew members had criminal histories. “They were great,” he said, adding that they worked 15- to 16-hour days and were rarely around. They arrived a few days after the oil spill on May 19 and left on July 3, he added.
David Stern, attorney for Patriot Environmental Services, told The Santa Barbara Independent that the company does “thorough background checks on all our employees” and “have zero tolerance policy.” He said, “The individual alleged to been DUI was terminated immediately.” He would not address claims that Patriot hired ex-convicts to do the work. “Patriot does not comment on rumors.”