Work in process: utility box panel study #1

img_3012We’re getting back on track with the utility box project. This time with more information about the correct wetlands: Ormond Beach Wetlands. Although the wetlands have suffered tremendous neglect on the Northside, which we will not forget, there are some beautiful highlights on the Southside. I’m saving one (or two) panels to discuss  conservation.

This study is a combination of two photos. One of the sunset shown to me by Walter Fuller, the other of the ocean that I took on my walk through the area. It’s unfinished, but well enough to show as a preview.

Ormond Beach Wetlands: The Better Half

063Today I returned to Ormond Beach’s South side entering from Arnold Road, which is marked by tiny green street sign next to a field on the eastbound side of Hueneme Road.  Arnold Road dead ends at the southeast entrance of Ormond Beach Wetlands.  I was met by former security guard and custodian of the wetlands, Walter Fuller, who with the help of The Nature Conservancy and the City of Oxnard, cleaned up the area South of the Southern California Edison plant, which extends to the northern perimeter of the Point Mugu Naval Base property.

With sadness, I learned that the canal water contains unhealthy quantities of pesticide run off from the bordering farmland.  Toxic waste seemed to be an ongoing problem for both sides of the wetlands, however I was clearly in a well cared for habitat that was ready for its salvation.

I also learned that the 35 year operations of Halaco on the North side of the wetlands, which included toxic and radioactive contaminant dumping, ended in 2004, but the site was not added to the California Hazardous Waste Priority List until 2007.  The City of Oxnard in cooperation with the EPA has removed some of the buildings and contaminated materials, however the EPA Superfund efforts to clean the property have only begun this year.

143Despite some of the habitat preservation challenges, I felt safe on the South side with the oversight of Walter Fuller.  There was no trash nor trace of homeless.  Walter greeted me like I was a guest in his home and gave me his business card, which I used to call him when I lost my way back to the trail.  During my visit, I also met Hector Diaz with the City of Oxnard, who was on his daily walk to the beach and back, monitoring the area for compliance issues by guests to the habitat.  His work is resultant of the City of Oxnard Ordinance dated July 7, 2016 protecting the beach plant and wildlife habitat: news release.

When I returned from exploring, Walter and I shared about our passion for birds and the environment.  We discussed the state of the wetlands on both sides.  Before I left he showed me a beautiful sunset picture of the wetlands after the rain, “when the pans are full” and assured me that I would have some pretty pictures for my painting after all.

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If you click on the highlighted text, it will show you a map of the area: EPA Halaco Engineering Removal Action Plan  The area that I visited yesterday is identified adjacent to the Halaco dumping area.

“A concern for public health and safety exists because of the presence of contaminants at the WMU. This is due to the fact that people walk, jog and ride dirt bikes on the WMU. It is important that the public understand there is a potential health threat in this area. The area will be secured and warning signs posted to minimize public exposure to hazardous chemicals.” – EPA Halaco Engineering Co. Removal Action Plan to Address Immediate Environmental Concerns

My question is, if the Northern area is toxic why is there still public access?   If you’re wondering about this too and would like to get involved, here’s a list of people to contact:

Wayne Praskins
Remedial Project Manager
Environmental Protection Agency
(415) 972-3181

Heather Parker
Community Involvement Coordinator
Environmental Protection Agency
(415) 972-3112

The Nature Conservancy
Ventura Office
532 E. Main Street, Suite 200
Ventura, CA 93001
Phone: (805) 642-0345
Fax: (805) 642-0342

Carmen Ramirez
Mayor Pro Tem
City of Oxnard

Sandy Hedrick
Conservation Contact
Ventura Audobon Society

Chris Kroll
Project Contact
CA Coastal Conservancy

Sean Hastings
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries
Resource Protection Coordinator

To close, it’s worth reading this informative article published by the VC Reporter in 2012: Ormond Beach: The Beautiful Problem.

**The painting of the utility box mural will commence again in a few days.**

Ormond Beach Wetlands: Heartbreaking

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.

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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.