Children’s safety first priority for Ramona’s Santa Maria Creek cleanup
By Karen Brainard
Focused on the safety of children as the No. 1 priority, those attending County Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s meeting on Santa Maria Creek Monday agreed that cleaning up the overgrown waterway should be done in phases, beginning with the section behind Ramona Community Park ball fields.
“We do have some safety issues with the kids there,” said Dawn Perfect, a Ramona Unified School District trustee.
“Lord help us,” lifelong resident Angus Tobiason said, referring to the possibility of someone hiding in the creek bed and grabbing a child.
Jim Piva, chair of the Ramona Community Planning Group, said the first cleanup phase should run from the ball fields to Seventh Street, and start with clearing out trash and invasive species within the guidelines provided by environmental agencies.
Those environmental agencies have limited what property owners along the Santa Maria Creek can do to keep it clean without getting fined due to regulations.
Jacob invited representatives from such agencies and county staff to meet with Ramonans at her El Cajon office.
The supervisor threw her support behind the creek cleanup.
“This has to get done. We must find a way,” she said.
The meeting was spurred by Tobiason’s insistence that the creek poses the danger for crime and future flooding.
Sgt. Kurt Torsak of the sheriff’s Ramona substation said that early Friday morning, April 26, deputies conducted a sweep of the creek from Seventh Street to Montecito Road and took six people to jail. Of those, two were under the influence of drugs, one was publicly drunk, and three had warrants for their arrest, he said. Another was cited for illegal camping but did not go to jail due to medical issues, he said.
“We do have a population out there of illegal immigrants,” said the sergeant.
“It is impacted. We have a big problem with safety,” said Torsak, adding that drug dealing is a huge issue in the creek bed.
The thick vegetation provides cover for people to live under, according to the sheriff’s station.
All that brush also poses fire risks, residents at the meeting noted.
Chrissy Tobiason, daughter of Angus Tobiason, said the community used to maintain the creek, but that changed about 12 years ago due to environmentalists. She said her dad was told that a shopping cart halfway down in the dirt in the creek bed could not be removed because it “became a habitat for critters.”
The only environmental groups that were represented at the meeting were California Fish and Wildlife and Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). Jacob also invited Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife but no one from those agencies attended.
Chrissy Tobiason said residents don’t want the environmental agencies to come in and do the work.
“We want you to give us the resources so we can take care of our own business,” she said.
“We’ll need the agencies’ help to make sure we are educated so we do it correctly,” said Jacob.
The supervisor said there will also need to be a plan for ongoing maintenance.
“It’s gotten worse than it’s ever been before,” Jacob said of the creek.
When environmental reps mentioned mitigation and compensating for losses in the creek, Jacob said the county will not do an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and said the agencies could put them in jail for cleaning up the creek.
“There is a huge public safety risk,” she emphasized.
Kelly Fisher with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said removing people from the creek bed won’t get rid of the homeless and there needs to be a collaborative effort to make the project work.
Fisher had put together a list of “do’s and don’ts” for flood control activities on behalf of Fish and Wildlife a couple of years ago. Her list, along with do’s and don’ts from other agencies, were passed out at the meeting as guidelines to follow, such as hand-removal of brush. The RWQCB representative said no equipment can be used in the creek bed to clear it out.
Fisher said whatever is done cannot alter the streambed. She also noted that federal law prohibits destroying the eggs and nests of birds.
Troy Bankston, deputy director, land development division for the county’s Department of Public Works, agreed to meet with Piva and identify property owners within the Phase 1 section.
Jacob said the secondary issue, after the cleanup, will be establishing trails for what the county has defined as the Santa Maria Greenway project.
- Supervisor aids groups seeking to clean out Santa Maria Creek
- Planners back Tobiason’s goal for Santa Maria Creek
- County OKs $20,000 for Santa Maria Creek Greenway
- District marks completion of Santa Maria solar project
- Creek cleanup volunteers welcome
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