Pottery Canyon cleanup and leaf blowers highlight environmental concerns at La Jolla Shores meeting

The La Jolla Shores Association heard a call for volunteers to help clean up fire hazards in Pottery Canyon.
The La Jolla Shores Association heard a call for volunteers to help clean up fire hazards in Pottery Canyon at its Oct. 13 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The La Jolla Shores Association heard updates on separate efforts to clean up Pottery Canyon and ban gas-powered leaf blowers during an extended meeting Oct. 13 to highlight environmental concerns.

LJSA board member Dede Donovan called for volunteers for a training program to clean up fire hazards in Pottery Canyon.

Donovan chairs LJSA’s subcommittee on Pottery Canyon, which was formed under the La Jolla Parks & Beaches group to address residents’ concerns about fire safety and was transferred earlier this year to the jurisdiction of LJSA, as Pottery Canyon falls within the boundaries of The Shores.

Mark Berninger, natural-resource manager for the city of San Diego’s Open Space Division, said the concerns about Pottery Canyon stem from “some dead trees and ... very large dead eucalyptuses that have fallen over the years” (eucalyptus oil is considered highly flammable).

To address a perceived fire and flood danger in Pottery Canyon, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group is looking to join with other community groups to draft and circulate a letter to the city of San Diego seeking action.

July 30, 2020

Berninger, whose division manages open spaces including canyons and preserves and works to preserve and protect endangered species throughout the city, said Pottery Canyon “is in compliance with brush management, but there are some issues there we need to address, [such as] removing a lot of that large brush that is restricting the habitat there and causing some other issues downstream with erosion and whatnot.”

Clayton Tschudy, executive director of San Diego Canyonlands, which works to restore canyons and build volunteer groups from neighborhoods to support local canyons, said the dead eucalyptuses in Pottery Canyon pose a “huge fire risk,” with “a lot of shedding bark [creating] highly flammable flash fuel that can easily catch on fire.”

He said the eucalyptus trees, which are not native to San Diego, “also tend to crowd out indigenous species.”

Addressing the concerns would mean “removing several acres of large, fallen eucalyptus trees, their debris, all of the detritus that comes along with them,” Tschudy said. “By doing this and replacing native shrubs and trees in those same spaces, you will reduce runoff and flooding, you’ll improve water quality from the water that collects from the canyon and moves downstream [and] you’ll reduce sedimentation moving into the stormwater system.

“You end up creating a resilient habitat.”

Tschudy added that the plan doesn’t currently allow for removing all the eucalyptuses, but if the living ones are maintained, “this will be a repeating issue.”

The problem, Berninger said, is “we are woefully understaffed and underfunded for these types of projects.”

Tschudy estimated the cost for San Diego Canyonlands to complete the cleanup at $102,000 but added that training community volunteers to do some of the work would bring down the cost by about 50 percent.

If LJSA were to seek donations of materials, it also would help drive down the cost, he said.

Berninger said his division has initiated a volunteer program through a platform called Better Impact, which “allows our park rangers to manage our volunteer events.”

Volunteers can indicate their interests — such as cleanup in Pottery Canyon and The Shores — and the program will alert them to new city postings that match.

Berninger said work is in progress to create volunteer Pottery Canyon cleanup events and that his division works closely with local nonprofits like San Diego Canyonlands.

Tschudy said volunteers can skip the city’s program and enlist with San Diego Canyonlands, which he said has “a master right of entry with the city [and] can organize volunteer events in Pottery Canyon.”

He said Canyonlands “always will coordinate with the city; everything happens under [Berninger’s] guidance.”

LJSA board member Mary Coakley Munk suggested the group look into San Diego County Neighborhood Reinvestment Program grants to help fund the Pottery Canyon project. Berninger said his division would help supply information if LJSA applies for those funds.

LJSA President Janie Emerson said the group will “look into more of the logistics” of gathering volunteers and funding efforts at its next meeting.

Gas-powered leaf blowers

Gas-powered leaf blowers are things “we need to get out of our community,” said environmental advocate and retired attorney Jan Chatten-Brown.

Citing a 2017 California Air Resources Board study indicating that one hour of gas-powered leaf blower operation emits air pollution equivalent to driving a 2016 Toyota Camry more than 1,000 miles from Los Angeles to Denver, Chatten-Brown said “we have to move quickly with regard to climate change.”

She said she is optimistic, as the state has already taken action to address the issue. Gov. Gavin Newsom this month signed Assembly Bill 1346, which would outlaw the sale of new gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chain saws as early as 2024.

Chatten-Brown said she has been involved in helping a local group draft a San Diego County and city ordinance to ban gas-powered leaf blowers because of their contributions to air and noise pollution.

The group, called San Diegans for Sustainable, Equitable & Quiet Equipment in Landscaping, or SD-SEQUEL, is a coalition of residents and others that meets biweekly to discuss actions such as the ordinance and educating landscapers about noise and other pollution from leaf blowers.

The ordinance, Chatten-Brown said, would address equity through trade-in or buyback programs, as many landscapers may not be able to afford switching to electric leaf blowers. She said the group is in talks with local government representatives about funding such a program.

“The prohibition would only go into effect after the San Diego Air Pollution Control District adopts the program,” Chatten-Brown said, adding that as AB 1346 was passed, the state “Legislature augmented the California budget to designate $30 million for adoption and implementation of [such] programs.”

Though AB 1346 includes chain saws and lawn mowers, Chatten-Brown said the worst offenders in terms of pollution are leaf blowers, due to “the incredible generation of emissions, including a lot of greenhouse gases.”

The emissions, she said, “are toxic to the operators, and some operators use hearing protectors, but a lot of them don’t,” which can lead to hearing loss.

Chatten-Brown said the SD-SEQUEL ordinance would limit noise from leaf blowers to 65 decibels.

The ordinance would provide for a “fix-it ticket” upon a first violation, she said, along with education about a buyback or trade-in program. The second violation would result in a fine, split between the landscaper and property owner, unless the property owner “can show they have given a written request to the landscape person to terminate the use of the gasoline power.”

Chatten-Brown said she wants San Diego “to be there right at the beginning of the line to get some money to implement this kind of program, but it should be implemented statewide.” ◆