Storms Make Arroyo Seco Wash Dangerous Place

So Pas Det. Arthur Burgos advises Ambrose Salazar about the dangers of the wash. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The Arroyo Seco, which means dry steam in Spanish, is usually void of any running water. It can be deceptive because the dry river bed appears to be an inviting place to play, walk and even live.

That all changes, however, when the rains come. Then the Arroyo Seco is no dry river bed, but a raging torrent of water that can sweep anyone anyway in an instant. The Arroyo Seco is a “dry stream” no more.

“I’ve been told that just several feet of fast-moving water can lift a person and sweep them away,” said So Pas Police Sgt. Shannon Robledo during an interview on Thursday, Jan. 31, as the first storm that pelted South Pasadena this past week raged on. “This can be a very dangerous time, which is why we are out here today talking to the people and making sure they know how dangerous the wash can be when the rains come.”

On this Thursday, So Pas Police along with a mental health expert went to the Arroyo Seco to discuss the inclement weather with those living in and around the wash in the hopes of moving them to safer ground.

“We’re taking preventative measures to educate some of the people that are living on the streets, specifically along the wash,” Robledo said. “Although they’re in Los Angeles, quite honestly, if they were needed to get rescued, those would be our resources that would need to be deployed and it’s not just one or two people, it’s a lot of people that team up. If someone were washed in that wash, there are firemen, policemen, and they are putting our lives in danger. So, what we are trying to do is to prevent that from happening.”

South Pasadena Police Sgt. Shannon Robledo, far left, briefs MET member Stephanie Gallegos, left, and Det. Arthur Burgos about the operation. Photos by Steve Whitmore

On this past Thursday, So Pas Det. Arthur Burgos and Stephanie Gallegos, psychiatric social worker with the Los Angeles County of Mental Health, on the Mental Evaluation Team (MET), and Robledo walked the wash talking with people who were camped in and around the area.

Every person they contacted decided to stay put and was not interested in leaving the area. As always, they were given information about resources and services designed to help them get back on their feet.

At one such interaction with a man and a woman as the rain began to fall steadily, Gallegos offered the couple a ride to a shelter. These two people were residing in a makeshift tent arrangement next to the 110 Freeway. Their encampment was situated behind a wooden door propped up against a Freeway fence and the concrete base of a bridge. Their encampment was sitting on top of the wash.

Gallegos joins the So Pas police about four times a month on patrol and goes wherever they are needed. If they were called to a neighboring city, they respond immediately.

“I love being part of MET,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling and today we are trying to help people be aware of the dangers in the wash.”

Although there were no rescues in this patch of the Arroyo Seco, there was a rescue occurring at around the same time near Griffith Park. A man clutching a bicycle was rescued from the rain-swollen wash.

Far left, Stephanie Gallegos and South Pasadena Police Det. Arthur Burgos try to convince this couple living behind the leaning door, background, to come in out of the rain.

“One of our jobs is to prevent crime and also to prevent incidents,” Robledo said. “We are here to educate these people of the forecast because we have five days of rain. And that wash is going to fill up pretty quickly, within hours. And, if they are new to the area or they don’t know about it, they’re putting themselves in danger. We ask them to leave and they obviously denied us but we offered them resources. Stephanie offered them an emergency shelter, she even offered them to get picked up from a bus to be taken to an emergency shelter. And they turned her down. Some people don’t want rules.”

Robledo said other law enforcement agencies are canvassing the area as well, getting the message out about the storms.

“I try to do this every time before a big storm is coming our way,” he said. “I do this twice a year, three times a year. Homeless or not homeless, if it’s raining stay away from this wash. It’s dangerous.”