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March 2019 Newsletter

Healthy Food and Creek Restoration in Hidden Valley

by Bill Palmisano, UCC Board Member

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Plans for the proposed Hidden Valley project

The Santa Barbara School District has proposed developing a 12 acre property it owns in the Hidden Valley area close to Arroyo Burro Creek. The plan includes a working organic farm with buildings and facilities to teach up to 120 students at a time. Farm-to-table practices, agriculture and sustainability, and environmental literacy lessons are planned. Students would be bussed to and from the site daily. The property is currently grassland, chaparral and mature oak woodland.

Is this robust development proposed for a relatively pristine natural area in close proximity with the urban footprint the best use of this property? Is it possible to step back and consider other scenarios that could develop better outcomes for students, the school district and the community, not to mention the preservation of scarce urban wildness?

The District’s property is a ‘gem in the rough’ in an urban environment. That is its value. Minimal effort could restore it to its previous natural splendor. Adjacent properties are moving in that direction. The Hidden Valley site could provide students a more realistic experience in a natural setting than a highly unnatural combination of buildings, asphalt, sidewalks, oak woodland and agriculture.

The City Creeks Division is in escrow to purchase the adjacent parcel of 7 acres, currently being farmed, between the District property and the Creek. The intent of the City is to restore the property to its pre-farmed natural state, eliminating the farm. Arroyo Burro Creek benefits from other restoration projects creating as much of a natural reserve as possible in the areas that the creek travels to the ocean. This portion of the creek runs year round through mostly undeveloped areas. Voters recently blocked a proposed housing development along this creek indicating their desire to keep the area in its natural state.

Environmental literacy is a vital element of education in this age. Students of land use cannot deny the fact that the farming of annual crops for the last 10,000 years has been, and continues to be, the greatest element of destruction of the natural environment that man has devised. The juxtaposition of an active farm, even an organic one, next to a designated “natural area”, for education purposes, presents an interesting, and difficult, irony for educators.

But what about agriculture? Young people of this era, as Americans in general, are woefully ignorant of where their food comes from, how it is grown, and the skills to grow, choose and prepare food for the health of the body. The 25 year old promises of better yields, less poisons and chemicals, and healthier foods from genetically modified crops are all an abject failure and need to be abandoned. Detectable and arguably harmful levels of poisons occurring in baby formula, breakfast cereals, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and most other conventional foods is frightening and needs to be addressed if the country is ever going to reduce its increasing rate of chronic diseases. Meaningful participation in food growing and preparation for our students is essential to their health and well being. But I think students deserve a more focussed opportunity in this vital arena than can be had by occasionally being bussed to visit agriculture and food prep facilities in the middle of a bucolic riparian corridor.

Thanks in part to the Orfalea and Audacious Foundations and Explore Ecology, Santa Barbara is blessed with outdoor classrooms, teachers, and functioning gardens at every elementary campus. All youngsters are being trained in soil husbandry and growing food, fiber, and flowers. Two secondary campuses have food gardens; the newest at La Cumbre JHS is a state of the art outdoor classroom, but not a farm. Santa Barbara High has more of a functional student worked urban farm providing food for the cafeteria. I believe the potential for production agriculture in the secondary schools of the district is not being realized .

I was fortunate to participate in a production school farm at Carpinteria High School a few years ago. We had less than a third of an acre in intensive, no till, self standing, permanent raised bed agriculture. We started with “soil” that was 6 foot deep roadcut fill that had been covered for decades by an asphalt parking lot. Asphalt removed, by the third year this enlivened new farm was producing over 3 tons of fresh food a school year for the district kitchens and the local food bank. Cafeteria waste food and landscape prunings were composted and returned to the land. Irrigation water was delivered efficiently via drip tape. The farm is now being leased to a local organic grower. Though the district did own other farmland within a few miles, the economy, convenience and utility for students and staff of having a farm on the campus was obvious.

There are 6 secondary school sites in Santa Barbara. All of the sites have space for intensive urban farms that could produce literally tons of produce every year for each kitchen. Students could participate without being bussed offsite; harvested produce would not have to be trucked to the kitchens. Think reduced carbon footprint and efficient use of time. Even students that are not interested in participating would be exposed to the “growing” on their campus. Think school community. District elementary students are receiving 7 yrs. of garden education. There is little or no opportunity to apply that knowledge and experience in a meaningful and productive fashion on the Junior High and High School levels.

When visiting secondary school campuses one is impressed by the resources being expended for stadiums, aquatic centers, engineering centers, theaters and much more. One has to think that healthy food, the ultimate source of all human achievements, is not even an afterthought. Where are the gardens? The urban farms? The excitement generated by successfully nurturing edible and beautiful plants to maturity by elementary students is palpable at times. Why is this excitement not being given an opportunity for expression as our children mature to adolescence and young adulthood? SBUSD embodies excellence by providing fresh, healthy, nature based foods from their kitchens to insure students’ well being. At the elementary level, students are learning and experiencing the beauty of growing landscapes; edible plants, flowers, birds and insects. All are part of a vital lesson needed in the modern era. America’s agricultural system is mostly invisible to the urban population centers. The district’s current plan reinforces this dichotomy. Bussing secondary students to a farm far away from their home campuses cannot compare to participating regularly at one’s own school helping the miracle of creating meaningful amounts of food, beauty and community.

–Bill Palmisano is a board member of the Urban Creeks Council.

Ring Nets Threaten Montecito Creeks

by Louis Andaloro, UCC Vice President

The Partnership For Resilient Communities (PFRC), a locally based non-profit group, were issued emergency permits to place ring nets on private property above Montecito. Ring nets are steel mesh nets which are placed across streams to catch debris moving during high flows.

The County of Santa Barbara permits, require that 11 ring nets be installed within a month, maintained for a year, and removed. Permits were issued for San Ysidro Creek, Hot Springs and Cold Springs (tributaries of Montecito Creek), and on Buena Vista Creek, a tributary of Romero Creek. PFRC is proposing to pursue permits later for creeks on the Los Padres National Forest, on Romero Canyon Creek. UCC is concerned that these ring nets will not be effective in reducing debris flow, will cause more environmental damage, and that the Montecito homeowners and general public have not been informed of potential negative effects. The PFRC has been successful in a public relations and media outreach campaign. But UCC is concerned that this public relations campaign has been one-sided and pro-ring net, without presenting the other side of the story. Although a permit was issued for Hot Springs Canyon, the Land Trust For Santa Barbara, a local non-profit group that owns the site withdrew their permission for unspecified reasons in late January.

UCC is concerned about the effectiveness of this project after consulting with the technical staff of Santa Barbara County Flood Control, National Marine Fisheries Service, Los Padres National Forest, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, & multiple professors at U.C. Santa Barbara. The experts we consulted were skeptical that these nets would be effective, as they felt that the forces generated by a debris flow would either rip them out, plug them with debris to overwhelm them by creating dams, or redirect the flow out of the primary creek channel which could cause significant damage that could not be predicted. Dr. Barry Keller, hydrologist, geologist and former president of the City of Santa Barbara Water Commission, was concerned about the unintended consequences of preventing the natural movement of sediments in these watersheds, and stated that these man made structures would only be able to stop 10’s of 1,000’s of cubic yards of debris per installation, whereas a debris flow could generate millions of cubic yards. Dr. Keller and other experts we consulted believe that the nets may also trap sediments that are below the threshold of a debris flow, and that that may create hazardous conditions that would not occur if they had not been installed.

We are also concerned about how these nets are to be cleaned out if and when they fill with debris and sediments. PFRC proposes that the nets be installed by equipment and personnel that are airlifted to the sites by helicopter, in order to avoid building roads to each site. Is it reasonable that they would then be able to maintain the sites because this is a costly method. The UCC believes that a better strategy to protect Montecito would include public safety options including: not rebuilding in the flood and debris flow areas adjacent to these creeks, enlarging the capacities of the bridges, culverts, and flood control channels, and doing a better job of urging people to leave the area when mandatory evacuation orders are announced. We believe that the natural processes that lead to debris flows cannot adequately be mitigated by man-made structures such as debris nets, and that their installation could lead to a false sense of security for those living in their path. The UCC plans to follow this action plan carefully, and plans to work with the various government agencies and non-profit environmental groups to ensure that an objective environmental review process is followed, than the public relations campaign pursued by the PFRC this winter.

The UCC is also worried about the relative silence of the relevant public agencies and resource management professionals, and wants to ensure their expert opinions are aired. Please follow our updates on this issue on our website and social media platforms, in order to keep up to date on this important issue.

–Louis Andaloro is the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Urban Creeks Council.

What Happens To Human-Altered Creeks During the Rain?

by Anne Burdette, UCC Board Member

Creeks with Pipe-and-Wire Revetment: Pipe-and-wire revetment is a wire fence placed against a steep bank to prevent erosion. However, it has proven to not be very effective after a certain amount of time, as soil erodes from behind the wire during storms. This leaves a widened creekbed and defunct wire structures that trap litter and impede wildlife access to the banks.

Channelized Creeks: Channels keep the creek from widening when it rains. However, they also destroy riparian ecosystems. Concrete allows rainwater to rush through a straight, frictionless channel at swift speeds, which can disturb naturalized areas downstream, and erosion may occur on the banks (which may prompt further manmade modifications). Instead of channelizing creeks, communities should require new development to be placed further away from creeks.

Creeks with Dams and Other Barriers: Debris dams capture debris that could otherwise cause a flood, but also act as barriers to steelhead trout, block the transport of gravel that is essential to steelhead spawning, and require maintenance that can disturb habitat. However, in many instances, debris basins do help prevent floods and are less disruptive than other methods, such as ring nets.

Educational Outreach

UCC believes that ensuring the continued health of our creeks requires helping the community understand how the ecosystems work and why it is important to protect them. As one step towards this goal, we are forming a school outreach program to teach local youth about the watersheds in their own neighborhoods. We began the program in April 2018 with a presentation at Anacapa School, an independent 7th-12th grade school in downtown Santa Barbara, about the basics of creek and watershed health. In November, UCC and Anacapa organized a tour of the Arroyo Burro Open Space creek restoration for one of Anacapa’s marine biology classes. The tour was led by Erin Markey of the City Creeks Division, and additional insights into the restoration project and the history of the area were added by UCC board members Dan McCarter and Louis Andaloro. UCC plans to expand this outreach program to other local schools in the near future, and add components such as creek cleanups for school groups. By educating the youth of our community about Santa Barbara’s creeks, we can increase the chances that they will help protect the natural environment for coming generations.

Debris Flow Forum

Hosted By: UCC and County of Santa Barbara Project Clean Water

Sept 17th, 2018 – Montecito Union School


  • Dr. Ed Keller, Prof. of Earth Sciences, UCSB

  • Tom Fayram, Deputy Director, SB County Flood Control District

  • Natasha Lohmus, Environmental Scientist, Dept of Fish & Wildlife

Moderator: Geoff Green, CEO, SBCC Foundation


A Few Take Away Lessons:

From leaders and experts in the ongoing public forum series that we have sponsored, and with help from the community and our supporters:

  • Respect Wide Creek Buffers: For your safety and the preservation of wildlife habitats

  • Capture Runoff in Soils and Groundwater: This is important for clean water and dry season habitats that support fish and other wildlife.

  • Protect Chaparral: Chaparral is an important plant for the local ecosystem. Chaparral is what holds fragile slopes together and protects creek habitats.


For all of the reasons addressed in this newsletter, we hope you can join us next time. We are currently planning our next educational forum and want to know what you want our next topic to be. Suggestions can be emailed to We hope to see you there!

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2018 Creek Cleanups

Our team of volunteers from the San Jose Creek Cleanup

“Our local creeks are vital for clean water supplies, fish and wildlife, and recreation, yet they are vulnerable and often polluted.  In 2018, a record number of Environmental Defense Center & Urban Creeks Council volunteers removed record amounts of garbage from 6 Goleta-area creeks, underscoring the importance of EDC & UCC’s work to protect and restore local watersheds.” 

– Brian Trautwein, EDC Environmental Analyst & Watershed Program Director

Our two organizations, EDC and UCC, enlisted help from a broad volunteer base which included: staff and volunteers from the EDC, board members and volunteers from the UCC, college students from UCSB, SBCC, & Westmont College, students from the Anacapa School, SBHS Green Club,  other area high schools, and from a broad cross-section of people who live in the neighborhoods near these creeks.

We focused our efforts on Devereux, Glen Annie, San Pedro, San Jose, Maria Ignacio, &  Atascadero Creeks. A total of 108 volunteers donated over 270 hours of their time in order to help with this incredibly successful effort.  Over 4,700 pounds of trash were collected. Please consider joining us for our creek clean-up projects in 2019. Everyone is welcome. Contact either the EDC or UCC  in 2019 to learn more about the times and dates of our volunteer projects for the upcoming year.

Habitat Restoration in the Arroyo Burro Open Space

by Anne Burdette, UCC Board Member

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Volunteers from the community, including several UCC board members, planting native riparian plants

The City of Santa Barbara is currently in the planting stage of a habitat restoration of the lower Arroyo Burro Creek.  Over the years, the health of the ecosystem had degraded due to the takeover of invasive plants, downcutting (lowering) of the creekbed, and haphazard use of heavy equipment by a former owner of the property.  To help transform the lower Arroyo Burro Creek into a thriving riparian environment once again, City crews have been busy removing invasive vegetation, re-grading the creek to create floodplains (which provide habitat and help filter contaminants out of creek water), and installing native plants.  The work is expected to be finished mid-December.

Urban Creeks Council’s involvement in the restoration began with simply monitoring the Arroyo Burro Open Space and observing the dynamics of the habitat, as well as mapping the locations of the nests of dusky-footed woodrats.  We then relayed this information to the City to help inform the restoration. More recently, three UCC board members participated along with other local volunteers in the installation of native plants on the creek banks. We look forward to seeing the restored area become a healthy, thriving creek supporting many native species.

UCC Welcomes Two New Board Members and Outreach Coordinator

Bill Palmisano, Board Member:  Moved from LA area to SB 1973, BA geography from UCSB, 1988, AS environmental landscaping from SBCC, 1992, C27 Landscape Contractor, Green Business Award from SB County in 1999, Recycling Educator of the Year from City of SB in 2006.

Dr. Melissa Kreger, Ph. D., Board Member: Melissa is a scientific researcher and educator, inventor, surfer, and environmentalist. Her research has focused on renewable energy projects and understanding how to teach important lessons about climate change and the human impact on the environment.

Brooke Moore, Outreach Coordinator: Brooke graduated from UCSB with degrees in Environmental Studies, Global Studies and German. While her main area of focus is environmental justice, she is passionate about outreach and loves engaging with the local community on environmental topics.

We Are Grateful For Our Sponsors

We would like to give heartfelt thanks to three businesses that supported the Urban Creeks Council in 2018.  Tim & Linda Marquez at Fancy Floors on Haley Street for giving us a great deal on the beautiful carpet they installed for us at our new office, the Coastal Resource Information Center (“CRIC Room”) at the Goleta Valley Community Center. Matt Ingersoll at Art Resources, also located on Haley Street,  has donated his mounting and framing services to provide mounting and framing for maps and art that we plan to both hang in our office. Jared Prince, the owner of Muir-Way Maps  in San Diego is donating several beautiful hydrological maps of both California and the entire United States for us to display in our office and take with us on our educational programs and public events displays.  See the coupon code (for a 10% discount on your order) below to order your own high quality hydrological maps, and he will make a 20% donation of the cost to the UCC.

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