Tide Pools … or Cesspools? at Sunset Cliffs

by on August 4, 2009 · 20 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, Organizing

Jon: “Hey honey, let’s pack a lunch and head down to the Sunset Cliffs tidepools for the day and soak up some sun!”

Honey: “That sounds great Jon, I’ll pack the lunch, and we can even sneak a little wine in the mix! Sounds fun!”

Jon: “Hey honey, let’s pack a lunch and head down to the Sunset Cliffs cesspools for the day and soak up some sun!”
Honey: “WTF?”

See the difference?

One of the many things I love about living here is walking the cliffs after work and taking in a beautiful sunset, watching as a wave crashes against the cliff and sends tourists giggling and running for cover as they get sprayed by the mighty Pacific.  I also love getting down there early in the morning when there are no tourists.  I love nodding and smiling at neighbors walking their dogs in the cool morning air, listening to the waves and the birds.  Until suddenly I stop looking out over the majestic ocean and sandy cliffs and glance downward.  Instantly, my euphoric morning stroll in OB is ruined by the sight of trash.  LOTS of trash.  Beer bottles, an old pair of jeans, broken glass, plastic wrappers, plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic plastic.  The scene is all too common.

I’ve never known of a community to have more organizations.  We have the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council (), we have the OBMA (http://www.oceanbeachsandiego.com/), we have the OB Town Council (http://obtowncouncil.org/Welcome.html), there’s Save Sunset Cliffs(http://savesunsetcliffs.com/) a web site that is apparently very upset over the bench removal.

I’m sure I’m missing a few others, but my point is, with all of these local organizations fighting to save one aspect of our town or another, we’ve completely missed the mark when it comes to the stretch of cliff between the pier and Orchard Street.  Local residents have been left to fend for themselves in this territory where out of town beachgoers constantly litter and urinate in front of our neighbors houses and our tidepools.

Where is the help from the multitude of local organizations that tout their commitment to keeping the cliffs a natural beauty for everyone to enjoy?  Why ignore this particular section of the cliffs that have been virtually taken over by the littering masses.  I’m all for personal freedom, but if you’re going to hang out on the cliffs all day and smoke cigarettes and drink beers and leave your mess for others to clean up, I say you lose your rights to do so and there needs to be a better system put in place to track and fine violators.

Action needs to start here at home.  Because the trash and plastics that are being left along our cliffs don’t stay there forever, they make their way into the ocean, killing marine life and eventually creating scenes like this:
or the great Pacific Garbage Patch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnUjTHB1lvM) which we hear so much about.

I recently had a conversation on this blog where I was told that to keep the cliffs clean and spotless would be “impossible.”  Well, I’m not a defeatist.  I will keep working at it, and would appreciate all of the support I can get.  I would also appreciate if some of the more established local organizations opened their eyes to the problems along this stretch of cliff.

“Todays problems cannot be solved if we still think the way we thought when we created them.”
Albert Einstein

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dave Gilbert August 4, 2009 at 4:30 pm

That’s just horrible Jon, I’ve seen used condoms down there too. I guess it makes sense since they’re screwing the environment.

I really appreciate all you do and have done both cleaning up and keeping things clean down there. I have a real problem picking up after others since I feel they shouldn’t have left the mess in the 1st place (the Marshmallow mess left at Veterans Rock is a perfect example) but you are leading by example and I’m really coming around to your way of thinking.

I still can’t stand litter bugs though and am starting to get confrontational with people about it lately. To me they are some of the most ignorant morons taking up space on our planet and I’m having a hard time finding any redeeming qualities in these people.


avatar Frank Gormlie August 5, 2009 at 1:00 am

Most people after work run home,
grab their board, their guitar or head for the TV or bar.
Not Jon Carr.
He grabs a trash bag or two
and heads for the litter of the cliffs.
He works to prove wrong
the cries of do-nothing myths.


avatar jon August 5, 2009 at 6:48 am

Thanks Frank and Dave for your nice comments. I want to make clear that I’m not up here tooting my own horn though. This is about raising awareness in the community, and about protecting this area of cliffs that seems so utterly neglected compared to the rest of the park. I also think most of the local organizations I mentioned do great things for the community, but they have resources that I wish could be tapped for making a difference in this area as well. I appreciate the comments and hope more readers chime in with their opinions.



avatar jon August 5, 2009 at 8:00 am

Also, if you are interested in learning more about the “garbage island” issue in the Pacific Gyre, check out this 3 part documentary…http://www.vbs.tv/watch/toxic/toxic-garbage-island-1-of-3

Each segment is about 20-25 minutes long, but it’s really eye-opening and gives a much better picture of what’s really happening out there in the deep ocean as a result of what we do here with plastics on land. Much more involved and informative than the little 2 minute youtube clip I posted in this article.


avatar Gary Gilmore August 5, 2009 at 8:26 am

Jon, it’s good to know that there is someone who is willing to go the extra mile and make some noise about something that needs to be done. There are a lot of locals who are willing to help but, need someone to spearhead the efforts. If you set up times and places where volunteers can meet and give enough notice so that the other local organizations can climb on your bandwagon you will create a very positive experience. I know the OBMA will publicize any attempt to clean the cliffs and I’m sure the other organizations will want to participate. Once they’re involved you will create an elevated awareness with the local public and that will be beneficial to all. Your efforts are appreciated. Thank you.


avatar Gary Gilmore August 5, 2009 at 8:56 am

Jon Carr has a passion for our cliffs
But is disgusted with all of the shit
So he got volunteers
And plied them with beers
Now things are cleaned up quite a bit.


avatar Frank Gormlie August 5, 2009 at 9:07 am

Gary the goldsmith
rhythms a bit more
for all he has to do
is lean out his door
for all the problems he sees
blow away with the breeze
so OB gets down to its core.


avatar bob galka August 5, 2009 at 10:50 am

I am a long time anti-litter advocate… I can remember as a kid I would cringe when driving with my dad and he would open a pack of ciggaretts and throw the plastic out the window… so I fully back you efforts. But I am more concerned with the huge decline in the animal life in the tide pools. I could be wrong but I don’t think it is related to the litter. I don’t know if this is a natural decline or pollution related. But since this is a “protected” are I would like to see that “fact” made more prominent (??). How??? I don’t know.. maybe more signage… some interpretive displays.. maybe a park ranger occasionaly during the summer months to “inform” and “encourage” a more respectful appreciation of the area.

What do others think?


avatar adam kipfer August 6, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I too find disgust in litter buildup and the like on the cliffs and elsewhere. Unfortunately there are those who insist on this behavior out of apathy or laziness. One of the main problems is that there simply is no place on the cliffs, say like at the bottom of any of the staircases, where a trash can is made available. While it is true that some will continue to defile the cliffs whith their waste regardless of available facilities, I am quite sure that the appearence of trash recepticles will invite people to deposit their waste there, hence improving the situation. This is a affordable and very simple step we can do to maintain the cliffs which we all enjoy.


avatar jon August 6, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Adam – I like the idea of trash cans being more readily available, the only problem is in some of these areas, the trash cans would need to be removed during high tide, and they might actually attract even more trash just by being there. Some areas, however, like the beach at the end of Santa Cruz street could benefit from having the trash cans placed on top of the bluff. In fact, I think there used to be one there by the signs that tell you not to drink or litter. ironic huh?

Speaking of signage, Bob – I like your ideas too. Does anyone know what the actual law is regarding taking anything out of the tidepools? I’m getting some conflicting stories. I’ve heard it’s legal to remove non-living things like shells (as long as they aren’t a home to a living organism), but not mussels or crabs. I generally tell people they shouldn’t be removing anything at all. And I have seen kids and adults alike filling up buckets with tide pool shwag. Ridiculous.

Some of it is laziness, some of it apathy, but I think the majority of the problem is ignorance or lack of education. We can all do our part by raising awareness about the harmful effects of pollution with our friends, family, children, and strangers alike. That’s what events like the paddle for clean water help to do. It’s coming up again soon! http://paddle4cleanwater.blogspot.com/
This will be the biggest and best year yet!


avatar PSD August 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm

10 or so cigarette butts, three bottle caps, two plastic bottles, one can of snuff, two plastic bags (and one paper), and one rubber glove. That’s the day’s take, and it didn’t make a dent. Thanks for all that you do Jon, I grab a little here and there but honestly, like all of us, I go out to the cliffs for a good time and a relaxing walk. Part of that is feeling like every time I leave things a little beter than I found them, but the seemingly insurmountable volume of crap always bums me out.

We do need more trash cans. When they first took a bunch out of the southern part of town at the beginning of the year, someone printed a list of phone numbers and posted it at the top of the Santa Cruz stairs for people to complain. I called a couple times a week and left messages, and I’m guessing others did too, because eventually the can at the top of the stairs showed back up. No others, though, and there really needs to be one at the bottom of the stairs. It’s sad people are too lazy to cart their crap back up with them, but it is what it is. On a positive note, thanks to whoever else is posting the trash bags on the fence at the end of Bacon.


avatar jon August 7, 2009 at 8:28 am

Just to stay grounded I went down and swam in the ocean with my fiance and neighbor and had a good time while not on a mission to eradicate trash and rant about it. I only picked up two plastic bottles. Some things you just can’t let go. ;)


avatar Robert Burns August 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Don’t forget the turds (buildings and sea walls) there and nearby.


avatar jim grant August 8, 2009 at 9:02 am

Bob @ Aug 5th. You are right the cliffs are a look dont touch…People need to know. I tell them if I see a gaggle of kids down there picking everything up to take home.
For the litter: When I was a kid ( not to PC here) I would get a good ass whipping if I dropped trash…..that has stuck with me my whole life. The not littering I mean…..the ass whippings stopped when I got divorced….

When is the next organized clean up ?

I along with another ( he has lived 50 feet from the cliffs his whole life)helped a writer from the UT on a article about Sunset Cliffs this past week. We started at the Veterans Rock and went all the way to Ladera St. He was FLAT OUT amazed at the beauty. He is writing a series of articles about beaches and beach towns. Todays UT front page about PB is an example of his work…..During our 3 hour walking tour of the Cliffs we did discuss the grassroots efforts to keep the cliffs clean and safe.


avatar jon August 8, 2009 at 10:14 am

I just got back from a morning walk/clean up. I was really stoked! Very little trash, and NO tags to paint over. (a few very small ones on the stairs at santa cruz, but i just scratched them out.) I was also really pleased to meet a few other locals out with trash bags walking around. The trash was mostly cig butts and a few beer cans (one used condom, nice.) but all in all, one of the best days I’ve seen out there. Especially after a Friday night. I think the litter problem can be addressed much the same way the tagging problem is being addressed. Pick it up quickly, paint it out quickly. When people see a bunch of trash on the ground, they’re much more likely to litter in that area.

No plans for a big clean up yet. I know there are some alleyways that really need serious attention. I will probably try to make that the next focus. Thanks to everyone on this blog for the overwhelming support and interest in keeping our community clean. We don’t want or need to be “tidy and trendy.” but we definitely don’t want to be “trashy.”


avatar jon August 8, 2009 at 10:43 am

Here’s the link to the article Jim was referring to: http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/aug/08/1n8guard002852-seaside-safety-squad/?metro&zIndex=146176

Thanks for sharing Jim. This guy is a good writer and I enjoyed reading this well thought out story he did about the lifeguards in PB. Hopefully he can bring the same interesting and engaging perspective to his story about the cliffs!


avatar Larry OB August 8, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Friday Aug. 14th 4 PM to 6 PM

First Meeting of The Cliff Dwellers, a volunteer group that will focus on trash and other problems in the Northern section of the Sunset Cliffs intertidal zone between the OB Pier and Point Loma Avenue. Meet at the bottom of the Santa Cruz stairway at 4 PM. Look for people picking up trash. If you arrive late, then head North toward the pier. Any questions… e-mail caveob@yahoo.com


avatar jon August 8, 2009 at 8:47 pm



avatar jim grant August 9, 2009 at 10:25 am

SUNSET CLIFFS in THE UT: Not sure when it will run but it should be intresting …we spent a lot of time withhim, he will be back in the area with his photographer this coming week and i think doing on the spot interviews. I told him to try and be at the cliffs for at least ONE sunset so he can see the flocks of people….
He also is doing another piece on OB proper ( if thats possible) the vibe the attitude the music scene etc……

As far as the Cliff Dwellers I know some who would love to help ..they asked if a Saturday or Sunday morning was possible due to woks schedules …..


avatar Larry OB August 9, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Sure. I just picked a Friday as a starting point. My intent is to have a volunteer/advisory group that isn’t hindered by jurisdictions. The Cliffs fall into several jurisdictions, Federal, State, City and Native (local users.) The city has even further jurisdictions, like the Streets Division being different from the Park and Rec Department. They also have different trash departments, which among other things means no covered (flip top) trash cans, and no recycling bins in our local parks. The city even has different cops for dealing with the homeless (known as the H.O.T. team.)

So anyway…I think we can get more done, more quickly if we are free to operate (and advise) in any jurisdiction. I intend most meetings to be in the field and hands on. For our first meeting I want to focus just on the area from the Santa Cruz stairs North to the OB Pier. Walk and talk and clean as we go.

At the pier we’ll head up the pier stairs, and return to Santa Cruz with a stop at each dead end street. The dead ends are what I call Micro Parks. We’ll discuss the good, bad and the ugly of the Micro Parks. Wear your swim trunks if you want to go for a dip at the end of our meeting tour.

P.S. Wear a straw hat if you have one.


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