Eco Warriors clean up Thousand Steps Beach in Laguna Beach after record summer tourists

LAGUNA BEACH – A woman visiting from New York found a brand new dress with store tags still attached in a sea cave at the end of Thousand Steps Beach.

Seven-year-olds Owen and Charles Fouhy, of Laguna Beach, found an American flag. Alexander Sarkis, 9, also from Laguna, found a portable barbecue and some boogie boards. And volunteers uncovered a plastic sheet covered in human waste, remnants of a former homeless camp.

These were among about 500 pounds of trash collected Saturday at Thousand Steps Beach. The cleanup was organized by Chris Tebbutt, a real estate agent in South Laguna in partnership with James Pribram of the ECO-Warrior Foundation.

Pribram, a professional surfer who grew up in Laguna Beach, created ECO-Warrior in 2006. The foundation was born out of his passion for the ocean. With a “boots on the ground” approach, the ECO-Warrior Foundation is dedicated to working directly with individual communities, both locally and internationally, who want to make a difference and create a positive and lasting change in the environment.

The city provided Beach Patrols officers and OC Parks, which oversees South Laguna beaches, provided hand-grabbers used for picking up trash. Coyote Grill provided breakfast burritos for all volunteers.

Tebbutt said 73 people volunteered and worked the beach for three hours. Most came from Laguna Beach, but some came from surrounding communities and others were visiting from out-of-state.

Tebbutt decided to organize the event after attending a recent community meeting with city and county officials where South Laguna residents complained about negative impacts from an ever-increasing number of beachgoers at beaches like Thousand Steps. Tebbutt and Pribram have more beach cleanup events planned at Table Rock and West beaches.

Tebbut asked Pribram to join the cause because of his foundation’s passion and its global reach. The group provided gloves and bags to all volunteers.

“ECO-Warrior Foundation is all about creating awareness, getting people inspired and getting them to show up,” Tebbutt said.

Pribram pointed to Tebbutt as an example of why he started the ECO-Warrior Foundation.

“I was doing a lot of work around the world and people asked me about the beaches in my own backyard,” Pribram said. “What Chris did is a perfect example of why I started this. I have a lot of people complaining. Most just want to rant, but Chris was unbelievable, he really got it.”

Recent years of record heat and social media, South Laguna residents say, have kicked the number of beach visitors into high gear and has made the South Laguna village an ever-growing, increasingly rowdy party.

Residents say public drunkenness is common, as is public urination, parking is difficult and jaywalking is routine. And traffic? Don’t get started about the traffic.

But along with the rise in bad behavior, neighbors and police say there’s a rise in something less easy to measure – bad feelings.

The number of tourists has gone up, as has the number of days they go to the beach. And, increasingly, the behavior has shifted from the kind of stuff that once drew a frown or a cranky comment into the kind that prompts a call to the cops.

Last year, police in Laguna took 1,712 calls for service in the South Laguna neighborhoods where residents complain of trash, parking issues, noise and public urination. That’s already more than the 1,645 calls taken in the same area in all of 2010.

“OC Parks is struggling to maintain them due to not enough staffing,” Tebbutt said. “The trash has been piling up. As a South Laguna resident, I decided to reach out to Eco-Warrior Foundation. I wanted to do more than just another clean-up. I wanted to create an event that would strengthen our community and create an opportunity for our neighbors to get out and and get to know each other.”

Pribram agreed. The beach has a lot of trash cans but somehow, they just aren’t being used and or emptied.

“It’s hard to get down there, even for the beach cleanup, taking all the supplies down,” he said. “It’s a beach that’s lawless, kind of like the Wild West. People are just lazy now, they don’t throw their trash away. When I was a kid on the beach, if you left trash or were disrespectful, there’s be an older guy that would put you in your place. People are disrespectful now.”

Chris Richter, a local artist who lives just up from the beach and runs its stairs regularly, was there to pick up trash.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of litter,” he said. “I wish the visiting beach goers would kindly pick up their trash after enjoying the beach.” The most common trash items he f fell in three categories: Intimate apparel, condoms and picnic goods. Other surprising items were surf boards, boogie boards and a picnic table.

Saturday was Liz Black’s birthday and the beach cleanup was exactly how she wanted to start her day. Thousand Steps Beach is extra special to Black. It’s where she had her first date with her now husband, Peter. They got engaged there. Now, they live in a house nearby.

“I heard about this a few months ago and when I thought about what I really wanted to do for my birthday as a family, it was this,” she said.

For daughter, Ella, 6, the clean-up gave her a chance to use her new trash grabbers. She, too, regularly goes to the beach to surf with her father. Saturday, she sound found bottle caps, cigarettes and plastic.

“My dad found some of it and pointed it out,” she said. “It’s not good to leave trash there. People can step on it and it’s gross.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-2254 or or on Twitter:@lagunaini