By Karen Brainard
Volunteers and sheriff’s deputies are among those joining forces to clean up the Santa Maria Creek bed.
Crissy Tobiason, who is heading up the volunteer effort, has created a tentative schedule to begin phase 1 of the creek bed cleanup — from Seventh to 10th streets — in late September, after nesting and raptor seasons end.
It was Tobiason’s father, Angus Tobiason, who expressed concerns about the overgrown creek bed to the Ramona Community Planning Group before his term ended in 2012, prompting action to do something.
In addition to concerns that the thick vegetation in the creek bed could cause flooding during heavy rains and could provide fuel for wildfires, criminals and homeless people have been known to hide or live in the overgrowth, according to the sheriff’s Ramona station.
Sheriff’s department staff is working with residents whose properties include portions of the creek bed. The Ramona station has identified 29 properties along the creek bed, from the 1700 block of Montecito Road to Ramona Community Park and the sports fields, an area that has seen frequent unauthorized usage by individuals, according Barbara Wallace, crime prevention specialist for the Ramona station.
“When some of them leave their encampment, they leave trash, clothing, household items and other refuse that ruins the appearance of the riverbed,” said Wallace. “In addition, they do not have proper restroom facilities and they use the riverbed area for a bathroom — polluting the riverbed and surrounding land.”
The sheriff’s department has asked the property owners to sign Trespass Arrest Authorization Letters to provide confirmation to a deputy that the owner has not given permission for someone to loiter or live on their property, Wallace said.
The signed authorizations make it much easier for deputies “to apply the trespassing sections and work to improve the quality of our creek bed,” she explained.
So far the sheriff’s department has signed letters from 24 of the properties, said Wallace.
Although property owners will still be responsible for removing trash and items left behind, Wallace said that, if deputies know a signed authorization letter is on file, they will ask the trespasser to take their belongings and vacate the creek bed immediately.
Crissy Tobiason plans to contact property owners in the phase 1 area in April about the upcoming clean up. She and her father, along with members of the Ramona planning group have worked with county Supervisor Dianne Jacob and representatives of environmental groups to see what can be done to remove trash and excess vegetation from the waterway without being fined for violating regulations.
“One of the goals is to clear out the vegetation because it’s so overgrown,” Crissy Tobiason told the planning group at its March meeting. “There’s a plethora of reasons that we as a community need to go in there,”
She presented a “Take Back the Creek” monthly report that showed a list of community partners who plan to join the effort and the professional services that will be required, including that of an arborist and a biologist.
Because of environmental restrictions, only certain vegetation can be removed, and non-evasive species must be identified and must remain, according to her report.