Santa Monica Creek

Posted April 18th, 2009 by John Callender

I took a walk the other day along Santa Monica Creek, entering where the bikepath starts at El Carro Lane, then turning north toward the mountains and walking along the dirt footpath that parallels the channelized creek:


There’s usually some pretty good bird watching along the creek (well, all bird watching is good), with an interesting assortment of species from the various habitats that come together there: The suburban area to the east (which includes my house), the open flower fields across the creek to the west, and a few big trees.

There used to be more trees along the creek, but in the decade and a half since I moved to Carp we’ve lost some of the biggest ones. An old oak died and was cut down a few years ago, and a big sycamore was taken out this past year. Here’s William standing next to the stump of the sycamore:


I’m not sure if the trees died as a result of changes in the environment (like the channelization of the creek, which happened in the 1970s), or if they were just at the end of their natural lifespans, but at least in the section just north of El Carro there don’t seem to be many new trees coming along to take their place.

Up closer to Foothill, though, the tree situation improves. The suburbs end, and while there are extensive greenhouses on both sides of the creek there is some open space, too, and some nice trees. These two young sycamores are growing next to the channel:


There were a number of interesting birds there the other day, including some black-headed grosbeaks, a pair of purple finches that I watched feeding for a while, and a pacific-slope flycatcher that I kept hearing, but never got a good look at. A neighbor of mine saw a white-winged dove in the area recently, and I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled, but so far I haven’t seen it.

I’ve never followed the creek north of Foothill, but I’ve checked it out in Google Earth. The creek continues north in channelized form for another half mile, then twists through some big flood-control structures before reverting to its natural state. I was reading recently that the Rancho Monte Alegre development has donated some land with a conservation easement in the upper Santa Monica Creek drainage; supposedly there’s some good steelhead trout habitat up there. With the recent changes that have been made to remove barriers to steelhead migration on Carpinteria Creek, I wonder if Santa Monica Creek might be the next place that could benefit from some steelhead-friendly restoration.

During the 2006 Carpinteria City Council race, one of the candidates mentioned dechannelization at a candidate’s forum, prompting one of the other candidates to respond, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” I realize there are people who view creeks as nothing more than drainage channels; certainly that view was well-represented when the decision was made to channelize lower Santa Monica Creek. But moving storm water downhill is only one of the things a creek does. Providing habitat, and giving people the chance to take a shady walk through a beautiful natural setting, are important, too.

When I looked at the concrete-lined channel of Santa Monica Creek the other day, I thought about that City Council candidate’s words. They were like concrete: There was no flexibility there, no possibility of change. What a ridiculous notion. Dechannelize the creek? Are you crazy?

Maybe the Santa Monica Creek channel will be lined with concrete for the rest of my life, and bringing up alternatives just makes me look foolish. But the longer I live, the more I come to realize that the things I think of as permanent aren’t always as solid as they seem. With enough time, and the steady application of the right kind of pressure, even concrete might eventually give way.

Leave a Reply