Inner Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro ends up getting Ds or Fs on Heal the Bay’s Annual Beach Report Card year after year. Sometimes the beach even ends up on our Beach Bummer list, which ranks the 10 most polluted beaches in all of California.
Over $10 million has been spent over the years on a wide variety of studies and projects to improve the situation. Workers found and removed old sewer lines. They plugged an old, abandoned stormdrain. Recently, the entire beach was replaced with new sand and reconfigured. A pump device designed to provide water circulation at the bath-tub like beach has been tested. This month, a rock jetty will be removed in the hopes that it will enhance water circulation. About eight years ago, the workers installed a series of bird excluder devices, and the Port of L.A. this fall will install new devices (picture fishing line strewn on top of a matrix of poles).
Despite all time, money and effort, Cabrillo continues to get Fs on the Report Card. And this spring, the Port’s inability to clean up the beach moves from a public health issue to a Clean Water Act compliance issue.
Starting April 1, Cabrillo Beach must meet fecal bacteria water quality standards 100% of the time from April1 –Oct. 31. The liability to the City of Los Angeles to comply with the water quality requirements could be substantial, yet the pace to complete the Cabrillo projects in time to comply with the deadlines continues to be far too slow.
Last week, the chief engineer from the Port made a presentation on the status of the beach cleanup projects to the Proposition O Citizens Oversight and Advisory Committee. As a member of the committee, I was shocked to hear that one of the biggest delays on the project resulted from a contract management “short cut” that ended up slowing down the beach water-quality efforts by at least a year.
A lot of the beach work, including the bird excluder device portion, had been tagged on to a larger contract on the controversial Port Channel Deepening Project as “change orders.” This enormous Port project has been held up by threats of litigation from a current Port tenant over contracting and environmental review issues. As a result, the beach cleanup efforts were unconscionably delayed. The Port never should have gambled with the health of the tens of thousands of people that swim at Cabrillo Beach just for the sake of shortcutting onerous contracting procedures.
As a result of the Port’s poor judgment on managing the project, the next phases of the project will not be completed in time to meet the Regional Water Board’s compliance deadline.
The jetty is scheduled to be removed and the bird excluder devices need to be installed. Then, the Port and the city’s Sanitation Department must monitor the effectiveness of the projects. If the monitoring demonstrates that there is still poor water quality, then the Port will move forward with a controversial plan to remove up to 5.9 acres of eelgrass beds in the Cabrillo swimming area with the hopes of improving water circulation.
As you might gather, Cal Fish & Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Coastal Commission may have some opinions on removing this important shallow-water habitat. The Port would have to find a nearby location to replace the eelgrass beds in kind on at least a one-to-one basis. Then, the beach would have to be monitored again to see if the water quality meets standards. If standards still aren’t met, then the Port and Sanitation will move forward on installing water circulation devices to enhance circulation enough to improve water quality.
To do all of this well would take about 18 months to two years. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The city only has about eight months to complete the work. As a result of poor time-management by the Port, the city will likely be out of compliance with the beach water quality standards when the April 1 deadline arrives.
The end result? The public will continue to swim in polluted waters and the city will face tens of thousands of dollars in potential liability. With the generous funding from Proposition O, the Port and the California Clean Beach Initiative, Cabrillo never should have been in this situation.