I was commissioned by the Downtown Oxnard Business Management District to paint a utility box as part of the Downtown business owners’ city beautification efforts. The theme of the project is Cultural Connections and after submitting a series of sketches, it was suggested that I use the wetlands scene in connection with the Ormond Beach Wetlands.
Having lived here for two years and never having heard of the Ormond Beach Wetlands, I assumed that this was something that ceased to exist and made my way to a small wetlands area adjacent to the harbor to research my subject.
Once I began painting a palm tree, hummingbirds, wild roses and red geraniums, I continued to hear reference of Ormond Beach Wetlands. Along with the overwhelming support of the project, I received some confusing looks about my choices. I decided to investigate further and was completely heartbroken by what I found.
I entered off Perkins Road, home of the Oxnard Water Reclamation Facility, decrepit industrial warehouses and tractor trailers waiting for their pickups. After I parked, the first thing I saw was a homeless man with a cross-country backpack walking out of the wetlands toward the exit. There was graffiti around the area of the parking lot.
I noticed an educational sign posted by the City of Oxnard and State of California Coastal Conservancy, talking about how “conservation is for the birds” and yet an abandoned couch floated behind it in what appeared to be contaminated waters collecting trash where egrets waded.
As I made my way through the grounds, I found multiple homeless dwellings and people collecting food by fishing. One urinated in the bushes. Some of the shrubs emanated the smell of human feces or death of some living thing. The people I saw did not seem threatened by me. I continued taking photos and kept my distance. At one point near the beach, I felt unsafe and headed back to the shore. I was ready to leave at that point anyway.
As I made my way back to my car and took one last glance at this preserve, I found myself in tears. I think in that moment I became a conservationist.
I realized that I need to start over with my utility box mural. I can’t paint a beautiful well-cared for landscape when this is the reality. It’s been weighing heavily on me along with the fact that I have an unfinished piece standing tall in the center of the City.
I texted my contact at the Downtown Business Management District, who was on vacation for the weekend. I gave him a brief synopsis of my experience and asked if there would be any objection to turning my mural into a conservation piece and including any information the city could provide.
With his consent and a list of names and agencies he provided for me to contact, this is my first attempt at re-organization.
Evidently, the land is owned by the City of Oxnard and the restoration project is in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy and the State of California Coastal Conservancy. It is a 1500-acre area that extends from Port Hueneme to Point Mugu Naval Base, including 2 miles of shoreline.
My effort here is to raise awareness and inspire better care of the land and it’s animals. It may be that the other 1000-acres has been maintained. I will find out. But the tragedy here is in the Northern Area between the Southern California Edison Plant, Oxnard Water Reclamation and Hueneme Road.
Stay tuned for the new utility box design on the corner of 3rd St & C St in front of the police station highlighting the beauty of the area and panels illustrating how to make a difference through conservation.