Change of plans for Ventura River bottom cleanup
Public, private agencies join forces to prevent homeless encampments
By Shane Cohn 08/16/2012
At about this time of year — and for the past four years — California Lutheran University incoming freshmen and some transfer students remove tons of trash from the Ventura River bottom.
About 12 tons of it.
But because of the recent fires in the river bottom, school administrators and city staff decided it would be best for the students’ safety to spend their annual community service program removing invasive plants near Ventura’s wastewater treatment plant.
So what about the trash in the river bottom?
First things first, said Peter Brown, the city’s community services manager.
“We’re focusing on getting the people living in the river bottom out and then focus on getting the trash out,” said Brown. “The environment part is not going to be ignored, but we want to be sure that whoever we send in to get trash out is going into a safe environment.”
The city is vowing to permanently dismantle the illegal encampments in the river bottom, as they tend to lead to fires, felonies and litter. The last time the city undertook such an effort was in 2004 in anticipation of winter flooding. Though the evacuation efforts led to the establishment of Camp Hope and River Haven, nothing was done to prevent illegal campers from returning to the river bottom after the flooding.
Now the city has begun to place notices in the river bottom, warning that the encampments will be taken down, and have instigated the removal of the nonnative arundo reed, a crucial step to permanently eradicating encampments, city officials said.
“By removing arundo it is much easier to control the river and keep illegal encampments from getting established,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “With the removal it is easier to patrol and allows for better cooperation with state park, the sheriff’s department and the private property owners. Our goal is to get rid of illegal encampments and to prevent them from happening.”
Back in March 2008, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board decided that in order for the city and the six other Ventura River stakeholders to be in compliance with the Ventura River Estuary Trash Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the groups need to routinely remove litter in specified areas of the Ventura River bottom and to implement long-term strategies to prevent trash from entering the estuary, as noted in a January 2012 city staff report. As long as there is “zero trash” in specified areas following a mandated cleaning event, the stakeholders are in compliance with the TMDL and not subject to fines that can exceed $25,000 a day. The TMDL safety plan does not require cleanup in hazardous areas such as homeless camps and dense arundo.
The city has complied by installing trash screens in storm drain catch basins at a cost of about $300,000. The city’s share of annual cleaning costs for the river bottom area is $15,800, according to staff reports, but the amount would likely be reduced if there are fewer or no homeless encampments.
While the city and local agencies begin forming encampment evacuation plans for mid-September, weekly cleanups will continue to take place in the river bottom, performed by volunteer groups, city staff and contract landscape maintenance companies employed by the city.
Though these efforts won’t compare to the immediate impact of the CLU community service program at this time of year, Brown estimates that once the arundo is cleared and the encampments are vacated, the Ventura River could be entirely clean within nine months.
Hundreds of Cal Lutheran University freshman work with law enforcement and other agencies before removing 12 tons of trash in the Ventura River bottom in 2010.