January 2017: HTO Gets a Big Win in Toxic Site Cleanup in Downtown SB!

In 1999, during the earliest days of HTO, someone came into our office with a vial of putrid water collected from the wall of the 101 freeway south onramp at Garden Street. We had it tested – and the bacterial readings were off the charts. The odors in this area were well known to Santa Barbara residents, especially the employees at the Home Improvement Center, who told us they got nauseous breathing the fumes.

HTO chased this issue for years, going through countless City records, churning through County Hazardous Waste records, interviewing officials and staff at the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and searching through old Santa Barbara News Press microfiche files - to finally deduce that this property was the site of the City's old dump, which it operated before moving to the site that is now Elings Park. Agri-Chip , a wood mulching company, was operating on top of the property for years, and all we could get from the Regional Board in the form of investigation or remediation was a demand from the Regional Board to Agri-Chip that it cover the area with tarps during a rain. 

The issue inspired us to map all the toxic groundwater areas in the Santa Barbara waterfront area, information we turned over to the Regional Board for entering into an electronic (Geotracker) database. We worked on getting state grants to prioritize the City's most toxic sites for cleanup. We collaborated with the Hazardous Materials and Site Mitigation Unit (SMU) officials of Santa Barbara County Public Works Department, Paul McCaw, Supervisor, and SMU professional geologist Tom Rejzek to see if we could come up with some sort of plan. But always, the corner of Garden Street and the 101 south onramp remained our biggest focal point. To us, it was the most obvious mess, a headache to us since 1999.

When in September 2015, a development plan for the property came before the City Planning Commission, HTO appeared before the Commission with our documents, outlining our discoveries about the property (read here), No development was approved or took place.

Then in January 2016 another development proposal came before City Planning, this one headed by celebrated Santa Barbara architect Brian Cearnal. HTO hot-footed it to the Commission hearing and presented our case again - but very importantly we emphasized that we didn't oppose the project, and stated that we supported it, because it presented an opportunity to clean up the property. It was a positive approach the Planning Commission agreed with.

This week, on Wednesday January 4, 2017, Heal the Ocean received a copy of a Notice of Intention to Open Remedial Action Case under Voluntary Cleanup Program (read here) for 301 E. Yanonali Street (otherwise known as the Garden Street property) from the Santa Barbara Environmental Health Department.

Could it be true? We contacted Public Health to doublecheck. 

The answer is Yes. This toxic eyesore at the entrance to the city and oceanfront of Santa Barbara will be cleaned up!

At Heal the Ocean we’re filing mountains of Garden Street/ 101 documents into storage boxes, and we’re celebrating another successful conclusion to long, hard and steady work our organization has come to be honored for.