Community responds to beach trash crisis after storm

Recent storms dumped a huge amount of garbage on Seal Beach’s shores recently, as seen in this Wednesday, Feb. 6 photograph, prompting an immediate response from the community and two special beach clean ups over last weekend. Another beach clean up is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16. Photo by Dave Smithson

Update: More than 500 individuals came out on Saturday, Feb. 16, for the regular monthly Save Our Beach clean up event in Seal Beach, according to spokesman Steve Masoner. According to Masoner, the average is about 350 in most months, though in April and September the number can spike to as high as a thousand.



Seal Beach pays to clean debris that comes ashore from many cities


Volunteers gathered still more trash from Seal Beach’s sands on Sunday, Feb. 10. Photo by Katie Bickerstaff

Save Our Beach is scheduled to hold its regular monthly beach clean up Saturday, Feb. 16, in Seal Beach. (For details, see the Sun Dial on page 10.) The volunteers for that clean up event will likely find much trash on the beach sand and the rip rap on the jetty: the National Weather Service was forecasting heavy rain Wednesday and a chance of more rain Thursday.

Unfortunately, rain falling from the sky means trash washing up on the beach.

It’s called “the first flush”—the rain falls on the cities along the San Gabriel River, the water washes trash into the river, the river delivers the trash to the ocean and the ocean deposits the trash on jetties and beaches along the Coastline.

Last week the ocean deposited so much trash on Seal Beach’s sands that it drew massive news media attention. At the Monday, Feb. 5, City Council meeting, Mayor Thomas Moore said, “It looked like the beach was a landfill.”

City work crews responded by clearing as much debris as they could last week. Moore said Public Works Department crews were on the beach at 4 a.m., clearing the debris.

After the massive debris was cleared, Seal Beach officials teamed up with Save Our Beach for a special, somewhat short-notice, clean up on Saturday, Feb. 9.

Volunteer Elizabeth Kane estimated that more than 100 people attended Saturday’s clean up. (Volunteers were spread out from one end of the beach to the other, making it impossible for the Sun to do a head count.) A FOX 11 cameraman was seen filming the clean up around mid-morning.

Karen Ferretti, a board member with Save Our Beach, said the group can get 300 to 500 volunteers for the regular monthly clean up.

Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos, who was among the volunteers on Saturday, said it had been raining during his drive to Seal Beach. Indeed, it had been pouring about a half hour before the Saturday event officially began. Fortunately, the rain stopped around the official starting time for the clean up.

It’s possible that the morning rain may have effected the turn out.

Ferretti and Gallegos both said a woman drove all the way from Rancho Cucamonga to participate in the beach cleaning.

One of the volunteers was a flight attendant with British Airways who was having breakfast at The Hangout in Seal Beach when she saw the sign for the clean up. She pitched in—though she had to leave for her flight home in about two hours.

Londoner Lucy Wolfe called cleaning the beach “very cathartic.”

Wolfe said she would rather do this, clean the beach, than hang out with her colleagues.

Other volunteers included Seal Beach Police Commander Steve Bowles, Councilman Mike Varipapa, Councilman-elect Joe Kalmick. Mayor Thomas Moore was also present.

Sue Travis of Old Town said she was part of a group that walks the beach three days a week. “We see this all the time,” she said.

She volunteered, she said because “it’s my town.”

Her friend Salley Allen said she wanted to show the Los Angeles Times that Seal Beach stepped up to address the trash problem. She said she was “devastated to see all this down here,” referring to the trash.

Ferretti said there was a need to give credit to city beach crews. They were out there every day, cleaning the beach. A friend of hers apparently saw Seal Beach crews working at 5:30 a.m. to clean the beaches.

Eezy Supplies and Harbour Surfboards Beach Cleanup teamed up for a Sunday, Feb. 10, beach clean up.

It was needed: rain fell between the Saturday and Sunday clean up events, bringing more trash to the beach.

Participant Katie Bickerstaff said they had about 40 people show up for the Sunday event.

“This was the first time that Harbour and Eezy have teamed up to do a beach cleanup. We were able to gather about 40 people to help clean up the beach, and were able to throw away roughly 40 bags of trash,” she said.

Some of the volunteers were people who were already on the beach.

According to Bickerstaff the turn out was pretty good, given that the Sunday clean up was announced on comparatively short notice and the weather.

“Harbour Surfboards along with founder of Eezy Supplies Jaime Lozoya are very dedicated to the city and thought this would be a great way to gather the community together to clean up our beloved beach,” she said.

As for the trash, Bickerstaff said a lot of it was the “little trash,” such as soda can tops that washed up on the beach.

According to Bickerstaff, Seal Beach Public Works staff had done a good job of removing the larger piles of debris that the ocean had deposited on the beach earlier in the week.

“There’s still a lot of trash here,” she said.

The Sunday clean up included a raffle of Harbour Surfboards and Eezy Supplies gear to clean up participants. Bickerstaff said five lucky volunteers “went home with some free gear.”

As Bickerstaff said, a lot of the trash that volunteers pick up is small trash. City bulldozers can move large piles during the week. However, some of the trash is tiny—such as the tiny beeds of plastic foam that Karen Ferretti tried to collect on Saturday morning. The little white balls of plastic foam were small. They were nearly impossible to pick up with a “grabber” device. Ferretti said she would personally like to see Styrofoam banned. She said she thanks Main Street businesses that don’t use plastic foam containers.

Commander Bowles found a small package that he speculated might contain narcotics. One volunteer picked up a small, empty bottle that once contained an alcoholic beverage.

One young man brought in a piece of the Seal Beach Pier.

Asked why Save Our Beach only holds one clean up a month, Ferretti said, “We are a small organization.” Save Our Beach is made up entirely of volunteers and once a month is all the group can handle for now.

However, Save Our Beach does do special clean up events with other groups—such as last week’s special event with the city of Seal Beach.

While work crews can bulldoze the sand on the beach, individuals must go out onto the rip rap—the large rocks—lining the river and the jetties—to manually remove any trash found there.

Ferretti said Save Our Beach will only allow kids wearing tennis shoes to work on the rocks. They don’t allow young people wearing flip flops to work on the rocks—it’s a safety issue. Another safety issue was raised during a phone interview with outgoing District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton. She cautioned anyone who wants to clean up the beach against picking up hypodermic needles. She said the hypodermic needles could be harmful to anyone picking them up without proper equipment. She advised reporting such finds to Seal Beach Lifeguards rather than picking them up.

According to Deaton, homeless individuals living on the rocks may be leaving trash that gets washed into the river.

However, most of the trash comes from out of town—and up the San Gabriel River.


Trash from 43 cities

The problem of trash on the city’s beach has existed for years. For example, late last year, Seal Beach resident Patricia Cooper created an online petition at to “promote the containment and proper disposal of the non-stop, ongoing flow of trash deposited into the Pacific Ocean at the jetty located at the north side of Seal Beach.”

As of Tuesday, Feb. 12, the petition had 209 supporters.

In addition to the volunteers who clean the beach at formal events and beach-goers who pick up what trash they find when they visit Seal Beach, city work crews regularly clean the beach. (If the trash lands on the Long Beach side of the river, Long Beach must clean it up at Long Beach’s expense.)

According to Assistant City Manager Gallegos, the San Gabriel river is about 58 miles long “and drains a watershed area that is 689 square miles in size.”

“There are 43 upstream cities that are located within this River’s watershed area (both LA County and OC County Cities,” Gallegos wrote in a fall 2018 email to the Sun.

According to Gallegos, cities have about a decade to install trash screens to capture the trash and keep it out of the river.

“In the meantime Seal Beach must remove this ‘regional’ trash from our beaches without any financial assistance from the upstream cities and/or the counties,” Gallegos wrote.

Councilwoman Deaton this week said there was a new legislative requirement to have storm drains covered.

In another email, Assistant City Manager Gallegos wrote that coastline cities have historically had to bear the cost of beach cleaning alone.


City spends $550,000 a year to maintain beach and pier

The cost is apparently considerable.

According to a city staff presentation on Measure BB, the city’s 1-cent sales tax increase, Seal Beach spends $550,000 annually to maintain both the 1,850 foot pier and 1.8 miles of beach.

“The Beach waterline was previously groomed 7 days a week all year long,” according to the presentation.

“Due to budgetary issues, however, service was reduced in the current fiscal year to 7 days a week during the summer (4 months) and 5 days a week during the rest of the year (8 months),” according to the presentation.

Seal Beach District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt, who serves on the San Gabriel River and Mountains Conservancy, told the Sun she had a call in to the Conservancy’s director to find out if funds were available to address the issue.

At this week’s council meeting, Councilwoman Deaton requested a future agenda presentation on the beach clean up. She also requested that the city have put an “ambassador” on the agenda to speak with cities up the river.

Email your suggestions for addressing the trash problems to



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