Patrick Migliazzo is a man on a mission. A Pacific Palisades resident, he noticed something troubling every time he paddled out to Sunset Beach, his local surf spot. “From afar, the rocks and beach looked pretty clean,” he explains. “But up close, it was a whole other story.” Years of foot traffic and municipal neglect left Sunset Beach loaded with trash and plastic detritus, all nestled snugly between the rocks.

Patrick took action, reaching out to the City of Los Angeles to request that city workers pay a visit to the beach to remove the debris. Little did he know, things were about to get interesting.

Surfrider Foundation Los Angeles volunteer Patrick Migliazzo

No Man’s Land

When Patrick started making phone calls to determine which municipality is responsible for keeping Sunset clean, one thing was clear: there was no clear answer. The beach is located on Pacific Coast Highway, a state highway located within the City of Los Angeles. The skinny dirt strip between the cars parked street-side and where the rocks begin? That’s technically under the jurisdiction of LA County Beaches. The beach itself (aka rocks, sand and water) are part of Will Rogers State Beach.

“The bottom line is that Sunset Beach is at the intersection of so many jurisdictions, it falls to the bottom of everyone’s list. That, plus the safety challenges and time-consuming task of trying to extract trash from deep within these rocks means that no one at the city, state or county level really wants to touch it,” explains Patrick.

Surfrider Foundation literature highlights beach pollution and protection initiatives

Enter: Surfrider Foundation

It soon became clear that the only way to enact change was to roll up his sleeves and tackle the project himself. As an active member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Patrick asked if the chapter could put Sunset Beach on the schedule for a future cleanup.

The chapter’s response: most definitely. And who better to lead the charge than Patrick himself?

A Grassroots Campaign Takes Hold

Surfrider empowered Patrick to take the lead on this project, a task he was happy to undertake.

Patrick sprung into action, putting out the call for volunteers to lend a helping hand. Recognizing the need for a cleanup at this overlooked but important landmark, Surfrider volunteers were quick to show up.

Surfrider volunteers Gus Edwards and Josh Black sort collected trash

“The first cleanup was seriously eye-opening. I thought we would get the majority of the trash collected on the first day. We picked up over 500 pounds of trash and barely made a dent,” describes Patrick.

More cleanups were needed–so more cleanups were scheduled. Using the social media tag #keepsunsetclean, Patrick and Surfrider Foundation continued to bring awareness to the situation at Sunset.

Since the first cleanup on November 24, volunteer crews have amassed 3,280 pounds of trash. (That’s well over a ton–or two 1994 Geo Metros, if you lived through the ‘90s and follow car culture…)

Cleanups average 30 volunteers each, with some cleanups involving more than 60 volunteer environmental advocates, including students, surfers, seniors, families and Los Angeles residents. Volunteers carefully pick through the rocks using gloved hands and mechanical grabbers to extract hard-to-reach trash. They bring their hauls back to the Surfrider tent to weigh and sort, separating recyclable items from non-recyclable trash.

Some of the most common items collected: straws, bottle caps and cigarette butts

The biggest haul weighed in at a whopping 1,600 pounds and included a car tire, discarded office equipment and various items of used clothing. For the most part, however, the trash trapped in the rocks at Sunset is fairly run-of-the-mill: plastic bottle caps, plastic straws, plastic water bottles and plastic food wrappers. It’s a stark reminder of the high environmental cost of single-use plastics.

Grab ‘em By the Pastry

Local sponsors have been quick to step up and provide support, offering refreshments that sweeten the deal for volunteers. Gallons of fresh coffee from Gladstones, dozens of burritos from the Pacific Palisades Chipotle, and 60+ fresh pastries from Whole Foods are a short list of the donations the cleanup effort has received.

Patrick credits local store managers for recognizing the much-needed service local volunteers provide and appreciates their willingness to step up. “The support we have received from the local community has been such a help,” explains Patrick. “The businesses and residents in the Palisades area care about this beach as much as we do. They have gone above and beyond to jump in and show their appreciation for the time and dedication the clean-up volunteers provide.”

No Simple Long-Term Solution

Unfortunately, there is no a clear path to long-term cleanliness at Sunset Beach. Lasting change requires a collaborative solution that addresses both pollution and beach access issues, which can only be achieved through cooperation, coordination and communication between residents and city, state, and county officials.

Until then, Patrick and the rest of the Surfrider crew will schedule cleanups as often as necessary into the foreseeable future, upholding the quest to keep Sunset clean.

For more information about how to turn your enthusiasm into action, become a member of Surfrider Foundation, or participate in any of our local events.