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Ventura Actions Aim at Scaring Pesky Sea Gulls Into Taking Flight

February 09, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

At the Bailard Landfill, the sea gulls' lot is not a happy one.

Labyrinths of wires wait to ensnare them, cracker shells snap menacingly, and loudspeakers blast electronic sea gull distress signals and sounds that are the sea gulls' equivalent of chalk scratching across a blackboard.

The high-frequency noises, explains Wayne Bruce, general manager of the Ventura Sanitation District, which operates the landfill in northwest Oxnard, "disrupts their communication signals and irritates their nerves."

If this all sounds like a scene from a horror movie, it's supposed to. Sanitation officials hope their efforts will frighten the flock of fine feathered friends away from eating at the landfill and loafing afterward at a swanky new subdivision, where their behavior has been anything but congenial.

Since construction began in March on the Island Villas development, the brazen birds have claimed the red-tile roofs of the Mediterranean-style luxury homes, priced from $200,000 to $350,000. The gulls quickly turned the roofs white with excrement and littered lawns with unsavory debris.

Unsavory Debris

"We go out and rake feathers and bones instead of leaves," explained former City Councilman Michael A. Plisky, who moved into the subdivision with his wife, Mabi, in December. The Pliskys said a sea gull even dropped a dead rat in their back yard.

The Pliskys' neighbor, Pauline Racicot, was no less disgusted by the bird, which is featured prominently in the city's logo. She complains that sea gulls ruined a recent party she and her husband, Oras, had for 23 relatives visiting Oxnard from Canada.

"They'd be out on the patio for a smoke, and they'd have to rush inside to avoid being bombarded," she sighs.

The plight of Island Villas has also drawn sympathy from such Oxnard City Council members as Ann Johs, who takes regular walks through the nearby River Ridge golf course with her husband, Tony.

"I know what they've been putting up with," Johs said at the council's Tuesday meeting, as she put on a brown baseball hat that appeared to have been splattered by bird droppings.

Roofs Steam Cleaned

The developer, Strathmore Oxnard Co., has responded by steam cleaning some of the roofs sullied by the sea gulls, and it plans to clean more of them. Residents of the community, where only 25 of an eventual 92 homes are occupied, had at one time wanted the city to hire a consultant to deal with the problem, but say they are now willing to wait and see if the situation improves.

But sanitation officials said this week that additional steps may not be necessary. They believe that they licked the problem when they closed down the Coastal Landfill last week and began dumping the county's trash at the Bailard Landfill.

Although most--2,500 to be exact--of the scavenger birds have found their way to the new landfill, which is less than three-quarters of a mile across Victoria Avenue from the old one, only a few have found their way from Bailard to Island Villas. The subdivision is about a mile from the landfill.

On Monday, sanitation officials found no birds on the houses and counted only 12 birds on ponds at River Ridge, said Kelly White, the sanitation district's environmental manager.

But the officials also acknowledge that the stormy weather of the past week--not the long-scheduled landfill switch--may have thwarted the birds' return.

"It has been pretty cold, wet and rainy," White said. "The birds don't like to be out in this type of weather."

Whatever the reason the birds crossed the street, sanitation officials hope to discourage them from landing there, by means of a whole array of "bird abatement" contraptions--from the bird wires to electronic distress signals to firing blank cartridges.

"We're trying to confuse the birds and keep them out of the food source," Kelly said. "That will reduce the number of birds in the whole area."

In all, the sanitation district expects to spend $30,000 on the project this year, Bruce said. Indeed, the district plans to do everything but the obvious. "You'd have to kill thousands to be effective, but we're not considering any destructive efforts," he said.

Possible New Steps

That doesn't mean that the sanitation district is ruling out construction. White said district officials plan to dig a pond in the dry bed of the Santa Clara River if the other steps don't work.

"There tends to be less of a problem when there's water in the river," she explained. "They like to lounge around water."

In the past, however, the birds have not proven so gullible.

They grew indifferent to such abatement devises as balloons designed to disrupt their flight patterns and kites designed to resemble hawks, their natural predators. Cannons installed several years ago at the Coastal Landfill at first frightened the birds. But eventually, "the cannon would go off, and they'd lift up a little bit, but right away they'd be back on it," White said.

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