Mike Hiles, Special to Valley News
For more than 10 years, the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department has offered Soboba Indian Reservation residents an opportunity to dispose of unusable bulky items during an annual Community Cleanup Day. This year’s event produced the best results so far as families have used the state’s sheltering-in-place guidelines as an opportunity to clean out garages, sheds and yards.
Steven Estrada, environmental manager for the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department, has overseen the project each year and said an important aspect of the annual event is to reduce the solid and bulk waste on the reservation. He said they’ve seen a decline in open dumping since the cleanups have been initiated.
“It provides residents with the opportunity to do some spring cleaning and get rid of items that they can’t normally place in regular trash bins,” Estrada said.
He said this year’s cleanup effort didn’t attract as many youth participants as in the past because some of the summer youth programs that included community service were canceled amid the pandemic. Everyone who did help, however, including TANF staff members and youth volunteers, wore masks and gloves during the four-hour collection period, July 16.
“We had a lot of involvement from tribal residents like we do every year, but this year there were multiple trips by individual households,” Estrada said. “The drop-offs were continuous and some even came in shortly after our 2 p.m. ending time.”
Dondi Silvas said her family made three trips to discard all their unwanted items.
“This program gave me an opportunity to get rid of big items that were cluttering my house,” she said. “I got rid of an old broken-down bedroom set I was waiting to throw out (queen-size mattress, box spring, two dressers and a nightstand) and other miscellaneous items.”
Her son, professional basketball player Joseph Burton, was home to help and she said they kept finding more things to get rid of, so it was a very productive day. While she is on furlough as a human resources representative at Soboba Tribal Administration, Silvas said she’s using the time and the fact her son is at home to dispose of a lot of unwanted items.
“I’m grateful to the tribe for offering this to us,” she said.
During the event, Estrada and his crew were able to fill four 40-yard trash bins and collect about 10 cans of paint and oil, which were disposed of separately. He said environmental specialist Jennifer Salazar did a great job coordinating things between residents and the Public Works Department that assisted in transporting items to the site from the homes of tribal elders who requested help.
The Soboba Tribal Environmental Department is preparing to start its new grant cycle in October and is currently working on an air emissions inventory for the reservation. Its annual Earth Day event had to be canceled due to the pandemic, which really impacted the department’s education objective. Estrada said the April event has always drawn the most tribal member participation.
The department regularly offers community outreach and education efforts through public events. Staff also conduct surface water quality testing on streams running through the reservation, collect and manage geographical data and create programs to address environmental concerns.
Per its mission statement, “the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department is committed to protecting, restoring and enhancing natural resources on the Soboba Reservation for all tribal members past, present and future.” The department works hard to raise awareness of all aspects of the environment. For those who want to learn more about their environment, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website at http://enviro.epa.gov.