Rain at the Bluffs

Posted February 8th, 2009 by John Callender

It rained a lot on Friday, and on Saturday morning, but by Saturday afternoon the sun was out, so I took a walk at the bluffs.

This tree, which is one of the eucalyptus trees that grow along the Artist’s Passage at the bluffs, always makes me think of the anthropomorphized trees that try to grab Snow White when she’s lost in the forest:


The management plan for the bluffs has some interesting elements. One of them is that the (non-native) eucalyptus trees along the Artist’s Passage won’t be removed. They can be replaced over time with native trees (presumably sycamores), but the intention is that there will always be a row of mature trees along that part of the bluffs.

Another interesting provision of the management plan concerns the open meadow areas. The city is required to preserve those meadows as part of preserving the visual character of the bluffs. But the city is specifically prohibited from using motorized equipment (like a tractor) to do so.

My understanding is that before the public acquisition of the bluffs those meadows were plowed every few years using a tractor; that’s what kept them meadows. Now that process has stopped. What does that mean? Will the meadows gradually be replaced by coastal sage scrub?

I’ve asked Andrea Adams-Morden about it, and she says nobody really knows. Most of the grasses in the meadows are non-native African species. In a contest between them and the native scrub, which will win? My guess is that eventually the scrub will win. That would seem to conflict with the “maintain the meadows” language in the management plan, but with the process of succession being so slow (at least by human standards), and with the more-obvious means of meadow maintenance (either plowing or fire) either explicitly prohibited or politically infeasible, I think the likeliest outcome is that the meadows will gradually turn into scrub.

Here’s a view from the Rhodes Fleming Coastal Trail, looking north toward the Bailard Avenue parking. There’s meadow, but there’s also a fair amount of coyote bush (which has been dispersing into the area via its wind-blown seeds). I wonder what this will look like in 10 or 20 years.


Down at the seal overlook, the seal watch volunteer that I chatted with was annoyed: a few minutes before my arrival a jogger passed by, jogging from right to left. You can see the jogger’s tracks near the bottom of the sandy area in the shot I took:


A baby harbor seal, born that morning, was among the seals that stampeded into the water when the jogger passed by. That’s really dangerous for the baby seals; they can be trampled, and in general, the more the seals are disturbed the greater the chances that the pups will become separated from their mothers. As I stood there talking with the volunteer, though, a young seal that she identified as the pup in question emerged from the water, so hopefully things worked out okay in this case.

On my way back I stopped by a spot on the north side of the Artist’s Passage, where someone has erected a teepee of sticks to mark where oil has been oozing from the ground. The management plan refers to this location specifically; it describes it as being either an abandoned well or a natural seep, and calls for the city to figure out which one it is and, if it’s an abandoned well, to cap it and clean it up.

I don’t know if the question has been definitively answered. I know Susan Allen is convinced it’s an abandoned well, and it does seem like an odd place for a natural seep. I’d like to investigate the issue more, maybe in the photo archives at the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History. I’d be really interested to know if there are any historical photos that show oil drilling there.

It’s a relatively minor issue, as such concerns go. But I think it has some relevance as Carpinterians think about Venoco’s latest action. Last week Venoco said it was withdrawing the Paredon proposal that has been working its way through the city’s planning process. Now the company is pushing for a direct ballot initiative to approve the project.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that in the future. For now, I think about this patch of oil at the bluffs, and what it symbolizes. Presumably someone dug a well there once. Maybe they made some money. Maybe they didn’t. Eventually, though, they moved on. When they did, they left behind a bit of a mess that Carpinterians are dealing with to this day.


Tags: casitas pier, harbor seal rookery, Carpinteria Bluffs.

Leave a Reply