by Ivy Munnerlyn, NEC Coastal Programs Coordinator
I’m a newer transplant to Humboldt County, and one of the first things that struck me upon arriving here was just how much the community cares about this beautiful place. There is no shortage of dedicated friends and neighbors ready to come together to make our county safer and more enjoyable for all. That’s certainly the impression I got the first time I attended a meeting of the Peninsula Community Collaborative (PCC). For the past 4 years, community members from Samoa, Manila, Fairhaven and other areas of the county have come together to tackle issues that matter to residents of the Peninsula. The group has had great success in improving the feeling of safety and natural beauty on the Peninsula, and has plans to tackle even more issues in the future. In particular, PCC has set its sights on the issues of illegal dumping and dune driving, which have both seen an increase since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. I had a great conversation with group facilitator Carla Avila and PCC core members Betsy Elkinton and Jody Himango about the history of the group and some of the issues they’ve been focused on.
PCC first came together 5 years ago with the help of the Redwood Community Action Agency and St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund. Their goal was simple: improve safety and enhance the natural beauty and community spirit of the Peninsula. Residents were concerned about tsunami preparedness, walking and biking infrastructure, and issues like illegal dumping and off-road driving. The group has set to work installing speed tables, gravel shoulders, and improving crosswalks — all of which have made a big impact on road safety for pedestrians and bikers. Several murals and public art pieces brighten neighborhoods and welcome visitors to the area. Tsunami evacuation zone signs now dot the Peninsula, and residents can access information about tsunami preparedness through PCC’s Facebook page (link below). A key facet of PCC’s mission is to work closely with the community on all of these projects. Peninsula residents have a diverse set of needs, and the group has had the most success by asking neighbors what improvements they’d like to see in the area. PCC has brought the community together for breakfasts at the Cookhouse, mural painting projects, cleanup events, and more. One thing many residents can agree on is the need for more waste disposal resources, which can be hard to access in unincorporated areas like the Peninsula.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, PCC has increased their efforts to tackle the trash issue. Lately, residents and volunteers have noticed a concerning uptick in the amount of dumped trash bags, furniture, and other large items along streets like Vance Ave. in Samoa. Illegal dumping has increased nationwide since the start of the pandemic, and residents worry that the Peninsula is being targeted by dumpers from around the county. PCC quickly set to work installing boulders and k-rails to block off roadside turnouts, installing signage, and creating a resource to help people report illegal dumping sites (pictured here). The boulders and k-rails have been particularly effective — volunteers who monitor Vance Ave. have noticed a decrease in dumping since they were installed. PCC decided to go a step further and paint fun and colorful designs on the blockades to further discourage dumping. The group has also responded to locals’ need for accessible trash services with the very popular Dumpster Days program, which gives residents free access to dumpsters for disposing of large items.
Many of the same strategies for combating illegal dumping can also prevent illegal off-road driving. PCC is working to educate the public about the damage driving on the dunes can cause to the ecosystems and communities of the Peninsula. With support from the County and the Harbor District, PCC is moving ahead to secure funding for more boulders to block unlawful OHV access along New Navy Base rd. Driving on the dunes in restricted areas can cause harm to native plants, nesting areas, and fragile dune ecosystems. It’s also a community safety issue, as it can destabilize dunes that provide a crucial impediment to tsunami waves. PCC is planning on creating signage that directs drivers to the OHV park at Samoa Dunes, where dune driving is safe and legal.
With an organization as effective as PCC, the question on everyone’s mind is “what’s next”? The partnership between Redwood Community Action Agency and PCC is coming to an end this spring, and the future of the group will be decided by the residents of the Peninsula. Moving forward, the group has plans to continue the popular Dumpster Days program, host fundraising events like a hike-a-thon and community paddle, and work on improving and maintaining Manila Community Park. Most of all, PCC looks forward to the day where they can once again hold neighborhood events that celebrate the spirit of togetherness that is so strong on the Peninsula. If you’d like to get involved with PCC or learn more about their work, check out their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/PeninsulaCommunityCollaborative