No Bodies, But Plenty of Trash in Laguna Grande Cleanup
November 1, 2012
A rickety little boat floats on Laguna Grande, bordering Seaside and Monterey, on an overcast Halloween morning. The three men inside steer it toward the thick clumps of green sedge that stick out of the gray lake like wild patches of hair.
Fernando Avila, a staffer with Seaside Public Works, recalls the time he found the body of a middle-aged man in this lake. It was about five years ago, he says, and the cold water had helped preserve forensic evidence that would help the coroner assess whether it was an accident or foul play. "He was in here for a week, so he didn't stink," Avila says.
It wasn't an isolated incident. About nine years ago, he says, he'd helped pull the body of a homeless woman who'd overdosed out of the tules in neighboring Roberts Lake. And he says that even farther back, in his first week on the job in 1997, he pulled a drunk guy out of Laguna Grande—a rescue effort that saved his life.
Avila's boatmates, Mario Alcaraz of Seaside Public Works and Balt Garcia of Monterey, seem entertained by the real-life ghost stories. But today they're fishing for less creepy bounty: The black plastic bags in the boat fill with slimy soccer balls, crumbled bits of polystyrene foam, beer cans, glass and plastic bottles.
On the other side of the lake, by the towering salmon-toned box that is Embassy Suites, Connie Rose and Nan Citron pluck litter on the shore using pick-up sticks. Like the men, they've been finding mostly bottles—but also a rusted bicycle, backpack and a shoe.
Rose says she's been heckling both cities, which share stewardship of Laguna Grande Regional Park, for months, even sending photos of the ubiquitous trash to the Seaside and Monterey mayors. Monterey staff finally heeded her call and provided the boat, she says. She hopes this will become a yearly tradition, and attract more than just two volunteers.
Citron, a book-club friend of Rose's, says she's come to love Laguna through her birding club. She ticks off the birds she's seen there: grebes, coots, red-winged blackbirds, rare warblers, Canada geese, ruddy ducks, black-crowned night herons, egrets. "It's a sanctuary for birds," she says. "I always feel bad for them having to nest in the crud."
Alcaraz says he sweeps for trash on the perimeter of the lake, where a small homeless population tends to camp out, every six months or so. But Avila says it's been more than a decade since city staff have fished out trash by boat.
Today's effort has inspired Public Works to do it more often, he adds. "We need to."