California Fish and Wildlife Inspect Wall Going Up in San Ysidro Creek

By Sharon Byrne   |   April 11, 2023
Pictured from left to right: Kyle Evans, CDFW Fisheries Department – Steelhead Recovery and Restoration; Angela Bonfiglio Allen, Env. Scientist for Streambed Program Ventura County; Supervisor Steve Gibson; Cooper Wall, Env. Scientist for CESA Program – Santa Barbara, Ventura; Sarah Rains – Env. Scientist for Streambed Program – Santa Barbara County; Game Wardens John Brusa and Israel Magana.

A month ago, I questioned in these pages who owns our creeks, because I was getting the runaround from various authorities on who has responsibility to stop:

– Pool construction on Hot Springs

– Wall building in San Ysidro creek

On Tuesday, April 4th, I pulled up to the Ennisbrook trailhead on San Leandro Lane to meet this crew from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW):

We were hoping David Vyenielo, the County Inspector with Planning Department would be there, but he wasn’t.

The meeting was organized by Renee Alexander, a resident of Ennisbrook who became concerned about a large wall going up in San Ysidro Creek. Damage from the storm caused significant scouring, erosion, and creek bed shift.

Renee asked me to meet with her and Marcia Ziffren, also serving on the board of the Ennisbrook Homeowners’ Association. We surveyed the area two weeks ago. I advised the best move was to get authorities on the ground to look at it. 

Renee had contacted the county, Fish and Wildlife, the Santa Barbara County Land Trust, and Army Corps of Engineers – agencies with authority and jurisdiction over creeks here locally. None of them seemed to know how to stop a very large wall going up in San Ysidro Creek, creating a new flow path. Renee called me. I reached out to Senator Monique Limón’s office, and Sam Omana came through, as always. A week later, we were meeting with Fish and Wildlife, and learned they have a great deal of jurisdiction over creek building, including issuing permits to Santa Barbara County Flood Control for their work in creeks.

Renee initially got some traction with County Flood Control, who stated there was no way that wall in San Ysidro Creek would be permitted, and construction stopped. But a few days later, construction resumed. It felt like the county was backpedaling, and Renee’s suspicion – shared by several neighbors – is that the walled property is likely owned by a very famous person. 

The Army Corps of Engineers similarly went and hid under a rock, inviting Renee to open FOIA requests to look at any emergency permits that may have been pulled to build the wall.

California Fish and Wildlife was confident about their responsibility in the situation. When there’s a significant event – like the 1/9 storm this year – and property or life is now at risk, the owner can perform immediate emergency repair work to mitigate the risk. They then have a 14-day window to notify CDFW, who inspects the work. CDFW may not like the way the property owner shored up their property and could require changes. 

Supervisor Steve Gibson agreed that the newly constructed stone wall altered creek velocity and would be a problem with downstream flow. There was no permit taken with CDFW for the work. 

What’s the remedy? CDFW said they’ll notify the property owner and start working with them. They also advised Renee to talk with Santa Barbara Land Trust because Ennisbrook has a conservation easement with them. 

CDFW also have grants on offer to pay for studies and engineering work to restore creeks. Renee was encouraged to apply for such a grant, as the Ennisbrook side of the creek took a lot of damage, knocking out part of the trail. The Montecito Trails Foundation could perhaps be an applicant on that grant for the trail restoration work they have to do there. 

CDFW also noted both bridges are low, and probably need replacing as they could be knocked out by the next storm. 

Bob Greene, the property manager for the very famous owner, happened to emerge at the top of the newly constructed wall, presumably inspecting the work. Renee asked, by yelling across the creek, if we could talk. He agreed, so the crew converged down in the creek from both sides. Renee got Mr. Greene’s contact info. CDFW quite politely let him know they wanted to speak with him. Everyone agreed to meet up.

A very productive morning. We welcomed CDFW back to visit Montecito anytime!

Next: The reckless pool-building up at Hot Springs… which CDFW said is also illegal. Stay tuned!  

Sharon Byrne is the Executive Director of the Montecito Association


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