The Clean-Up Bandits

By J'Amy Brown   |   September 5, 2019
The "Clean UP Bandits," preferring to stay stealthy and anonymous, Theodore, Shelley and Chainsaw, stand in front of their handywork at the Cabrillo off-ramp where they took trash removal into their own hands

Q: In August you wrote about a less-than-perfect clean-up at the 101 Cabrillo off-ramp. This week I noticed a big improvement, but trash is still entwined in branches. This clean-up is like a Dalmatian dog – spotty! What gives?

A: It’s true: this ramp clean-up puppy is being attacked by diminutive nips, not big-dog bites!

Back in July, Caltrans closed the southbound Cabrillo off-ramp to oust a homeless camp. They disbursed people and debris – but this done-in-a-day project was not done in a day and Caltrans left a lot of rubble behind. 

Never one to let sleeping dogs lie, Just Ask J’Amy, in our Montecito Journal August 15 column, reminded Caltrans that the Cabrillo off-ramp is the entrance to Montecito and the unfinished scrub-out was not meeting our village’s aesthetic or landscape standards. “Please finish what you started and come back and pick up the remaining rubble,” we wrote. With the Journal having a voice heard around the world, we got quite a response.

Cabrillo off-ramp right side shows area cleared by citizens, left side saved for Caltrans’ arrival on September 3

First, Jim Shivers, Public Information Officer for Caltrans District Five, the entity that manages the Cabrillo off-ramp area, wrote me right away. “We are scheduled to go back the first week of September to hopefully finish the Cabrillo off-ramp. We have already hauled out 20 tons of trash and had five crews out there, but we weren’t able to complete the job. We are asking for patience from the public as we also have other important work to do, such as potholes, fence repairs, mowing, and spraying.”

Patience? That is probably not Montecito’s most notable definer – our local bumper sticker would more likely read: “I want it MY way – and I want it NOW.”

JAJ is not big enough for a media-spotlight, but once we shined our media-flashlight on Camp Ramp-Litter-Land and, with residents driving by the site daily, people started to get worked up. The tom-toms thumped on the social media sites. Locals commiserated, complained and, most importantly, connected! With their patience strained, and the Caltrans cavalry nowhere on the horizon, they did what annoyed citizens do – they grabbed their pitchforks and, yep, stormed the off-ramp!

Now clearly understand, no matter what the circumstances, you should NOT try this on your own – actually you should not do it at all. Caltrans deeply frowns on citizens meandering on their freeway ramps. Because of that, er, little legal hickey, the sources who reported this story will remain anonymous, with faces shrouded and by nickname only.

Here is my undercover underbrush story: A half a dozen or so locals took matters into their own hands, under the direction of Montecito’s well-known road-vigilante, Chainsaw D. For those of you not familiar with Chainsaw, or his nickname, here is the background: Once upon a time the community was considering a children’s pedestrian path. While politicians and experts yakked about solutions, Done-and-Done D. grabbed his chainsaw and cut down several blocks of brush. Problem solved.

Caltrans has Hazmat gear just like mine. They sure had an army down there. I guess the squeaky wheel really does gets oiled…

So, last Thursday, as mentioned, Chainsaw D. and his team took matters into their own hands. Bringing their own equipment and donning heavy duty gloves, they invaded the freeway-ramp, clearing out two-thirds of the remaining embankment debris in just a few hours. A come-back was scheduled for Friday, but the team, calling themselves “The Clean-Up Bandits (CUBs),” were met by an orange sign noting Caltrans would close the ramp for cleaning on Tuesday, September 3, which is exactly what happened. Knowing reinforcements were on the way, the locals sheathed their pitch forks and headed back to the barn – leaving the on-ramp a whole lot better than when they found it!

But wait – there’s more! Half of this team was made of homeless people – some who knew the camp site quite well – because for them it had been called “home.” 

It seems another of the CUB organizers is a Montecito resident who we will call Shelly. Shelly volunteers at Summerland Presbyterian Church, where, specifically, she focuses on homeless outreach. Because of her work, she has contact and access to some homeless people looking for work. She was the conduit for inviting some hard workers she knew to participate in Thursday’s ramp clean-up. 

“Many of the homeless would like to work; they like to make things better,” Shelly said. She hopes this story will make Montecito residents, or even better Caltrans, aware of this labor resource and consider hiring homeless as workers. Shelly can help facilitate a connection; she can be reached via Summerland Presbyterian at 805-969-9318. Chainsaw vouched that the whole team was made up of “awesome workers.” 

He introduced me to one of the team, Theodore. Strong, handsome, well-groomed and engaging, Theodore told me he was born in Santa Barbara, moved to Hawaii and found himself without a roof upon his return. Asked why he would want to volunteer for heavy-duty trash lifting on a hot August day, he looked at me quizzically and answered with perfectly equalizing eloquence, “Well, because I live here.” 

Thank you Villagers – no matter where you chose to live – because it truly takes a village, made up of all kinds of caring citizens, to create a unique and worthwhile community!


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