I just spent a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday in Walnut Creek. It is a great tradition for my family and my brother Jonathan’s to get together at our aunt Ruth and cousin Sherrie’s house. No live invertebrates or endangered species on the menu. Just a typical Thanksgiving of gluttony, family conversations, debates and insults, football, and kids going feral. Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday. (By the way, we did follow Jonathan’s recommendation to go to a pretty tasty Basque place called Wool Growers in Los Banos).
I have a lot to be thankful for. My family is healthy and I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and three kids. And I have one of the best environmental jobs in the state, letting me work with brilliant and dedicated staff, volunteers and board members to protect public health and California’s rivers, beaches and coastal waters.
Before you think I’m going soft in middle age, there are plenty of things I have not been thankful for this year.
I’m certainly not thankful for the Governor’s refusal to reappoint Maribel Marin to the Regional Water Board. She has been a superb vote for water quality protection that served with distinction, class and dignity for four years.
I’m not thankful for the state’s epic budget crisis. Bond freezes prevented millions of dollars of water quality and habitat conservation projects from moving forward. With no solution in sight and no legislative or gubernatorial leadership or support for true budget reform, look for the state’s lack of finances to be used as an excuse for inaction on everything from environmental protection to education. Already, I wonder if my kids (5th, 8th and 11th grades) will ever read a history textbook that includes our 44th President.
Was there any meaningful environmental legislation that passed this year? Please don’t say the Bay-Delta water package because that brings me to another event I’m not thankful for. When state leaders had the opportunity to move forward with true sustainable water management reform, they forgot one thing: the folks that use 78% of the state’s water: agriculture. Not good news for California’s salmon or steelhead.
Also on my thankless list are those government agencies that pulled a 180 this year: the Coastal Commission for its flip-flop on the San Diego application for a waiver from the full secondary treatment requirement of the Clean Water Act; and the Regional Water Board for its enforcement reversal on the over 1,000 water quality violations at the Kissel Co.’s Mobile Home Park in Paradise Cove. Also, Los Angeles County has spent and accepted millions to clean up local beaches, yet its leaders have decided to sue the state because it actually had the nerve to make clean and safe beaches an enforceable requirement. Go figure.
I’m sure I could go on and on, but I’m depressing myself as it is. But the year isn’t over yet.
Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get some good environmental news in December. Perhaps Southern California will get a decent network of Marine Protected Areas that protect productive habitats of concern rather than a lot of sandy bottom, a habitat not in short supply. Maybe the Regional Water Board will add enforceable trash reduction requirements to the L.A. County stormwater permit. Maybe the State Water Board will make it clear that California’s once through cooling power plants that suck the life out of the ocean will be history by 2020. In January, maybe the city and county will get together and come up with a sustainable funding strategy to clean up polluted stormwater in Los Angeles to protect public health and aquatic life.
Believe me when I say none of these are sure things. But as long as people continue surfing, diving, swimming, fishing and enjoying the ocean, there will always be hope. And that’s something to be thankful for.