San Mateo, Burlingame Parks Among Bay's 10 Worst Trash Hot Spots

September 15, 2009

The Bay shore is the place to find trash after a storm, whether you want to or not. Milk bottles, styrofoam cups, candy wrappers and cigarette butts decorate the shoreline, washed down from urban creeks into San Francisco Bay.

On Tuesday, two San Mateo County sites — Ryder Park in San Mateo and Bayfront Park in Burlingame — gained the dubious honor of being among the Bay's 10 most disgusting trash "hot spots" as designated by Oakland-based nonprofit Save the Bay.

This year's version of the annual report is timed to precede Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday and is based on the results of the 2008 Coastal Cleanup Day. Volunteers removed 353,432 pounds of trash from San Mateo County beaches and Bayside locations last year, far more than any other coastal county in California.

Plastic bags were a major part of the haul, and Save the Bay hopes to see them banned in every city in the Bay Area.

"They're pervasive," said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay. "Our waterways are choked with trash and plastic bags are a big part of it."

The organization's long-standing war on trash has finally started to yield some spoils, at least from a regulatory point of view. Last year, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board voted to add several creeks to a statewide list of water bodies that violate the Clean Water Act after Save the Bay was able to demonstrate the extent of the trash problem with photographs and other evidence.

The problem starts in cities, where litter is washed or blown into gutters that lead to urban creeks and, ultimately, to the Bay. In October, the Regional Water Board will vote on a new storm water permit that will, for the first time, limit the amount of trash that cities around the Bay Area are allowed to send downstream.

The permit, which is still in draft form, is expected to set an ambitious zero-trash reduction goal within 10 or 15 years, according to water officials. Cities will be required to do their part by cleaning up the worst trash "hot spots" in their areas far more frequently than they do now. They will also be required to install litter catching devices in the storm-drain system to pick up smaller items like cigarette butts.

Some of these underground devices can cost tens of thousands of dollars, especially for larger cities that will be required to install several of them to account for all their trash. That has made the proposed changes controversial.

"There's concern that it's very difficult to prescribe a 'one size fits all' requirement for capturing trash. Cities all have different trash issues and they would like to develop their own solutions to the trash issue," said Matt Fabry, program coordinator for the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program.

Fabry also wonders what steps the Regional Water Board can realistically take to verify progress toward meeting the long-term no-trash goal, particularly when city storm gutters aren't the only source of trash.

"We may be making progress in terms of what's coming out of storm drains, but if you still have people dumping trash on private property and homeless encampments that are harder to deal with, you may still see trash coming out in the waterways despite the fact that it's been significantly improved."

Even without a perfect plan, it's crucial to attack the problem of trash in the Bay with urgency, maintains Lewis of Save the Bay.

"To get toward a goal of zero is important, but if zero is years off, the most important thing is to make significant reductions in trash, soon," Lewis said. "The best way for cities to solve this problem is to reduce the problem at the source."

Go to to see an interactive map of this year's 10 Bay trash "hot spots."

Coastal Cleanup Day is this Saturday and volunteers are needed at more than 25 San Mateo County locations (below). For a full list of times, meeting locations and contact information, visit or call Ana Clayton at 650-372-6214.

Bayside cleanup locations:
Belmont Creek
Brisbane Lagoon
Burlingame Bayfront (two different locations)
East Palo Alto: San Francisquito Creek
Millbrae Rotary Park
Redwood City: Cordilleras Creek, Pulgas Creek Brittain Creek and Redwood Creek (two cleanups)
San Mateo: Coyote Point Park and Ryder Park

Coastside cleanup locations:
Daly City: Thornton State Beach
Half Moon Bay: Francis State Beach, Poplar Beach, Pillar Point Harbor, Surfers Beach
Montara State Beach
Pacifica: San Pedro Creek, Manor Bluff, Sharp Park Beach, Pacifica State Beach, Rockaway Beach, Mussel Rock Beach
Pescadero: Pistachio Beach and Pescadero State Beach
San Gregorio State Beach