Riverbed to Be Cleared to Give a Home to Birds --Not Vagrants


Trying not to disturb the nesting patterns of a finicky, misanthropic bird--or encourage homeless men and women to return to the Ventura River bottom--Ventura officials are racing to remove debris from the river.

The City Council voted Monday night to spend more than $177,000 to clear the riverbed of decaying plants and discarded junk. Council members debated the cost of the project for more than half an hour, wondering if the city could find a better bargain with a different contractor. In the end, though, they approved the contract on the condition that the city manager and the city attorney review the project bid and agree that the costs are valid.

Had the city waited any longer, officials said, snowy plovers would have begun building nests along the riverbank. Once that happens, crews cannot chance disturbing the breeding fowl, they said. A short, compact bird with a white “eyebrow” stretching back from its white forehead, the snowy plover is fond of smooth, sandy beaches uninhabited by humans.


The council, however, also has another reason for putting riverbed debris removal on the fast track, city officials said: The sooner abandoned river-bottom encampments are cleared out, the less the chance that vagrants will try to reclaim their old haunts.

Raging floodwaters last January ripped homeless encampments out of the Ventura River bottom, displacing more than 100 squatters.

Although many of the basic encampments are gone, some of the more sophisticated structures remain amid the muck. Officials say they worry that when the mud dries the transients will come back and resume their old life.

“The council meant that it did not want people living back in the river bottom,” Councilman Gregory L. Carson said before Monday’s meeting.


Clearing out the riverbed before spring comes, he said, means squatters “will not have anything to go back to.”

A hodgepodge of litter now carpets the riverbed, choking native flora and discouraging fauna from returning to the area. This winter’s floodwaters strewed tree branches and other scraps of plant life from upriver, across the banks of the sensitive estuary habitat.


Remnants of shanties, discarded furniture and wrecked appliances--some brought there by transients, others washed there by floodwaters--also dot the landscape, officials said.

“There’s tons and tons of plastic and sheeting and rugs and construction materials and abandoned refrigerators and car bodies and half-buried couches,” said Doug Muelder, describing the task facing his company, which will clean up the area.

Muelder, who owns California Land Clearing of Ventura, said he will send crews of 12 to 18 people to the river bottom each day for 18 to 20 days, beginning as soon as the rainy season ends.

Laboring by hand to avoid disturbing the surrounding habitat, they will hack apart and haul out whatever is not native to the area. Recyclable materials will be recycled and everything else will be dumped at Bailard Landfill in Oxnard, he said.


When the clutter is finally gone, officials say there will be plenty of room for the snowy plover to make its annual spring home. The birds migrate each year from southern to northern climes, stopping on their way back north to spend the spring breeding season in sandy areas like the stretches lining the mouth of the Ventura River, officials said.

Homeless encampments have not disturbed the snowy plover’s habitat because the bird nests too far downstream, said Mark Capelli, executive director of Friends of the Ventura River. But the habitat is nevertheless threatened by natural and man-made materials that washed down the river in this winter’s floods, covering the banks with a thick layer of debris, he said.


Because floodwaters necessitated the cleanup, city officials said they are confident they will be fully reimbursed for their expenses with federal disaster relief money.

Officials said they are also expecting the federal government to pick up the tab for debris cleanup on the beach, which the city hopes to begin by April 1.