Pacific Beach volunteers improve their community by cleaning up roadsides every month
“Second Saturday Cleanup” is organized by the PB Town Council
On a gloomy Saturday morning last month, volunteers adorned in neon yellow safety vests had their heads down in the rain, collecting litter and debris from the roadside near Mission Bay Park.
While the rain was not typical for the cleanup day, their activity was something they have done many times before.
The community service event on the second Saturday of each month is among the Pacific Beach Town Council’s Enhancement Committee activities. The event is part of an ongoing effort to combat waste buildup in the community.
Susan Crowers, committee chair, said the monthly engagements were started in response to an unsightly buildup of garbage and weeds along the roads leading into Pacific Beach from Interstate 5.
“Back when I first came on the board around 2019, we were bemoaning the fact that so many of our medians looked really awful,” Crowers recalled. “We saw a real need in the community for weed abatement on our medians, but we also noticed that freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, which are really the gateways to our community, were frequently filled with litter. We could almost always count on there being a lot of work to do once a month.”
Crowers, along with then-council President Brian White and board member Ron Walker, began informally leading “guerilla” cleanups during COVID restrictions, drawing on the excitement from the community.
Walker said the inability of city employees to dispatch waste management crews during social distancing compounded refuse buildup in Pacific Beach neighborhoods.
“We started doing this during COVID, because that’s when things were really getting to be a mess,” Walker said. “The city was not keeping up with things because of restrictions that they had about what their employees should be doing. … One of the things that generated a lot of trash in the business sector of Garnet Avenue during COVID was takeout food. A lot of our trash bins were overflowing because takeout food comes (packaged) with stuff you have to throw out.”
Walker and Crowers found that launching a cleanup effort during the height of COVID restrictions offered a larger base of readily-available volunteers, given that community members had so much time on their hands and few options on how to spend it.
“We had some really good participation because everyone really just had nothing else to do,” Walker said. “We were all just waiting for opportunities like going out and pulling weeds.”
The first iterations of the event started as an occasional cleanup, but after COVID restrictions were loosened it became a monthly outing. Walker said there were 13 participants last February, excluding town council members who showed up. Crowers said upwards of 25 volunteers came to their most-attended cleanup events, and the cleanups logged 209 hours in 2022.
“People would drive by and honk at us and say thanks,” Crowers said of their early cleanups, “so we could tell it was a real positive and people appreciated it.”
The March 11 outing was marked with rainy weather and gray skies, resulting in a meager turnout of only a handful of volunteers. Two who came out despite the gloomy forecast were spouses Quinn and Bira Carrico, making this their first involvement with the cleanups.
Quinn Carrico said they were looking for a way to give back to their community and that the impact of their work on the area was rewarding.
“It’s a good way to start your day with a positive,” Quinn Carrico said. “It’s a very tangible activity where you can see all the trash beforehand and you see a lot more green (space) when you leave.”
Bira Carrico said the kinds of refuse she picked up came as a surprise. She found a discarded hood ornament, in addition to the expected glass and plastic litter. Volunteers also removed a mattress and a broken camping stove from the roadside during the two-hour cleanup.
“I was very annoyed with all the cigarette butts, that just seems unnecessary,” Bira Carrico said. “I would like to think that some of the larger bits (we found) fell off the back of a truck. I hope no one purposely discarded a mattress.”
“(It’s a good opportunity) to try to give back to the community, and be involved with people who are trying to help the community in the right direction,” Quinn Carrico said.
Another avenue in which members of the Pacific Beach Town Council are tackling cleanups is through council membership co-chair Trisha Goolsby and her initiative, Cans4Books. Goolsby recycles CRV litter and purchases thrifted reading books for local children using the money exchanged at recycling centers. Since launching the initiative in December 2020, Goolsby said she has recycled nearly 8,000 pounds of refuse and donated a little over 6,500 books.
“I do beach cleanups with different organizations and businesses to bring that collaboration, to work together for a common cause and to also be able to take care of our environment,” Goolsby said.
“We also work with children, modeling and teaching them how we can take care of our environment through different ways,” she said. “Not only through recycling but thinking of ways to repurpose or take care of the environment through beach cleanups.”
Crowers said the Second Saturday Cleanup volunteers often set aside a designated bin to discard recyclables for Goolsby to trade in.
As concerted as these efforts to keep the community clean have been, it proves to be an ongoing task. Walker said the issue of litter in Pacific Beach is “never ending,” but posits it is just as much a signal of the community’s vitality.
“It’s not like we clean areas and they just stay clean forever,” Walker said. “As the community thrives, you get more of that (litter). Having overflowing trash cans, that’s bad and you don’t want that because it looks like crap, but it’s also a good signal because it means that people are in our community and patronizing those restaurants.”
Goolsby echoed a similar sentiment, and vocalized a hopeful outlook.
“Unfortunately, it’s never ending, the trash and pollution on our beaches and the streets,” Goolsby said. “I just think about how I was raised; in Virginia on generational farmland. In the countryside, you take care of what’s around you because you need to use those as necessities and it’s also your community. We can really come back together as a community if we work together. Even though it is a never ending battle, at least for the time being once you’re done cleaning that area at that moment it’s just so beautiful.”
When volunteers concluded their work last month, the bagged garbage, car parts and mattress they gathered were picked up by city Parks and Recreation employees.
The monthly cleanups open to all who wish to participate, and the PB Town Council posts regular updates about each event.
“If we all work together to pick up a little piece then we can make a larger impact,” Goolsby said. “We don’t have to do more than we can’t provide, and when we put it all together it all seems to work out.”
Goolsby said she is seeking nonprofit status for Cans4Books in order to take the initiative nationwide. Cans4Books hosts a volunteer beach cleanup every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Volunteers meet north of the lifeguard station on Grand and Ocean avenues.
In addition to the monthly cleanups, the council is gearing up for its annual Graffiti Cleanup Day, slated for May 13. According to the council’s website, last year’s event had 2022 engagement had around 80 volunteers who removed over 600 tags. To volunteer for this year’s event, visit pbtowncouncil.org/graffiti-day.