By Karen Brainard
Efforts to clean up the brush- and trash-infused Santa Maria creek bed are gaining traction due to persistence by resident Angus Tobiason and assistance from County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
The Ramona Municipal Water District recently jumped onboard, adopting a resolution seeking support from the county and regulatory agencies to allow more than hand clearing of the creek.
Residents and community groups have long complained of the overgrowth in the dry creek bed and their inability to remove vegetation because of environmental restrictions.
On April 29, select members from various Ramona groups will meet with representatives of environmental regulatory agencies at a meeting in Jacob’s El Cajon office.
In February, the Ramona Community Planning Group sent a letter to Jacob requesting assistance to improve the Santa Maria and Etcheverry creeks, referring to a buildup of soil, vegetation, and trash that has been increasing over the past few decades.
“Due to environmental restrictions, community members no longer remove material from the creek like they did in the early days of our town,” the letter stated. “Even when the path for water was much less impacted, this waterway has flooded and caused massive damage to Ramona’s parks, businesses, and homes. It is our fear that if Ramona has a significant rainy season the creek will be overwhelmed and we will be faced with devastation.”
Before finishing his term on the Ramona Community Planning Group at the end of 2012, Tobiason said his main goal is to see the creek bed cleaned out for safety reasons and to prevent future flooding. He remembers when the creek flooded in 1979-80, causing much damage.
The water district is also concerned about future flooding as the Santa Maria Creek runs behind the baseball fields at Ramona Community Park, which is owned by the district.
RMWD directors passed a resolution at their April 9 meeting to support creek clean-up “for increased health and safety issues on RMWD property.”
Water district General Manager David Barnum said the hope is that the county will help ease possible environmental restrictions.
Director Kit Kesinger said the resolution was too vague and did not specifically address what was requested to be cleared.
“We purposefully left it vague,” responded Barnum, adding that it was basically requesting brush clearing.
When Kesinger asked if the district wanted to use equipment to clear brush, Barnum said, “It’s regulatory agencies that control that.”
“Something this vague is pretty hard to get behind with a vote,” said Kesinger, who was the only director to vote against it.
In addition to preventing flooding, Board President Darrell Beck noted it will help with fire control. Beck said his house burned in the 2007 wildfire because the fire moved down the creek bed, as it burned the overgrowth.
Beck also said he had talked with the sheriff’s department in Ramona about the vegetation in the creek.
“This is a major crime control problem that we’re having in the creek,” he said.
“It’s a danger to children, especially here in the park,” he added.
Beck said he plans on attending the April 29 meeting at Jacob’s office.
“I think we’ll find the cleanup will make it so much nicer, so much safer,” he said.
Lt. James Bovet of the sheriff’s Ramona station said the creek is a source for crime, illegal camping, drugs, and prostitution. The overgrown vegetation, he said, allows a cover for those involved in such activities to hide under.
Although he will not be able to attend the April 29 meeting, Bovet said he is sending a sergeant.
“Our goal is to get all the overgrown foliage removed,” he said. He called the river bed “simply an overgrown refuge for people who want to be involved in crime.”
Also planning to attend Jacob’s meeting are RCPG Chair Jim Piva and Secretary Kristi Mansolf.
The regulatory agencies that Jacob has invited to participate are the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.