Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

I think we’ve all done a double-take when heading down the [Glendale] 2 Freeway and seeing the Adopt-A-Highway sign that shows that litter pickup on that stretch of our freeway is done by a group called Atheists United. I’ve been curious about this for some time, and was surprised to find that two of my fellow community volunteers are part of the pick up crew for Atheists United.

Retired librarian Roberta Medford is involved in a host of volunteer groups, including helping the Historical Society preserve its local treasures. She is most often seen holding signs promoting peace on Friday nights in Montrose with the Montrose Peace Vigil, or pulling weeds in Deukmejian Park. But she can be spotted once a month or so doing litter removal along the 2 Freeway.

Local super-volunteers Bill Weisman and his wife Sharon spend most of their time giving their all for various community and civic groups, too numerous to mention. Bill is probably most visible in his (unpaid) role as a Traffic Commissioner for the City of Glendale. However, when the call from Atheists United comes, he takes off his tie and dons a orange vest to pick up trash along our highways, making driving into our valley a better experience.

I asked Bill about his experience as an Adopt-A-Highway volunteer. He started about three years ago when, like me, he spotted the sign and was intrigued. An Internet search led him to a meeting of Atheists United (yes, you guessed it – they meet on Sunday mornings) where he signed up for trash pickup.

Bill told me they meet on an “as needed” basis, carpool up and patrol the 2 from south of Holly Drive to the Verdugo Boulevard off ramp. The hotspots for trash are around the bridge over Chevy Chase, where a prevailing breeze pools the litter, and all the on- and off-ramps where the trash becomes somewhat of a commentary on our society. Bill says it’s disturbing how many empty liquor bottles they pick up on the ramps, and on the Holly ramp by Adventist Hospital a good number of used hypodermic needles. Although the majority of the litter is food wrappers, plastic bags and car parts, the occasional discarded wallet or cellphone adds spice to the pick up sessions. One volunteer even found a $100 bill and, according to Caltrans rules, he got to keep it!

A regular item volunteers are not so happy to see are the bottles of urine discarded by long-haul truck drivers too busy to pull over.

The Adopt-A-Highway program is immensely popular and attracts “adoptions” from churches, small businesses, community groups and even individuals. Some large corporations adopt portions of the highway and pay Caltrans workers to pick up trash for them. It has become a very visible way for groups and businesses to promote the idea that they are good community members and care about our neighborhoods.      Some of the groups are slightly controversial, like Atheists United. Sadly their sign has been vandalized regularly, once being cut down with a power saw.

Even La Cañada resident Billy Ray Cyrus weighed in on our local Atheists United signs. In a recent “GQ” interview, he talked about viewing the sign each day as he drove his daughter Miley to the set of “Hannah Montana.” He told the interviewer that he saw the sign as evidence of satanic influence, and that heading down the freeway to Hollywood the sign signaled that they were “on the highway to darkness.” I think like most actors he’s being overly dramatic. OK – I’ll concede that maybe heading down the 2 to Glendale, you are on the highway to darkness! But I see the Atheists United signs as a testimony to the variety of views and beliefs that make up the community of CV, and to the spirit of volunteerism that makes this town a great place to live.

So thank you Bill and Roberta for making my drive to and from work, and my first view of the valley coming up the 2 each evening, a clean and happy experience.

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at