Some Early Presents …

Chanukah came early for L.A. coastal waters

Just in time for Chanukah, or a little early for Christmas … It may not have been a MacBook Air, a PS3, or even the latest iPhone, but Southern California’s coastal waters this week received some regulatory presents significantly better than a pack of Zhu Zhu Pets.

The city of Los Angeles’ decision on the Low Impact Development ordinance may have been postponed (a cliché at this point), but the state Fish and Game commission and the Regional Water Board made a couple of enormous decisions this week.

On Wednesday, the Fish and Game panel threw a curveball by voting 3-1 to send the Marine Protected Area network recommendation cobbled together by its Blue Ribbon Task Force forward as the preferred alternative for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

After saying they would not vote until January, commission members changed their minds and decided to take a vote at the end of the meeting.  The well-worn conservationists vs. fishermen testimony started off the day. The blue crew focused on the merits of the BRTF proposal and the need to strengthen the proposal to meet scientific guidelines. The men in black preferred to focus on supposed secret meetings and backroom deals as well as how the MPAs would deal a crippling blow to the fishing industry.  Staff presentations comparing all of the MPA alternatives followed. Then the Scientific Advisory Team and economists weighed in before the commissioners began deliberations. 

Then began a long discussion on MLPA process transparency and public involvement. (BTW, has there ever been a regulatory process that was more transparent, tedious and open to the public?) After all that, the commissioners decided to move the process forward.

As a reminder, the recommended shape is great for Malibu and most of the Southern California coast. But it is weak for Catalina and poor for Palos Verdes.  The science guidelines were largely met everywhere but Palos Verdes.  The commission vote is good news because the CEQA process can now move forward. Other maps will also be considered as alternative proposals through the CEQA process, but the Task Force-recommended plan will take priority.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously voted Thursday to incorporate the L.A. River Trash Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) into the Municipal Stormwater Permit. The move marks a huge win for the environment, as the L.A. River Trash TMDL is now enforceable. Imagine, a trash free L.A. River by 2016. That’s the enforceable requirement now included in the county’s stormwater permit.

The LA River Trash TMDL has withstood many years of legal challenges so it’s on solid footing.  The action should dramatically reduce the marine debris contribution to the Pacific from the L.A. region.  Of note, Compton Creek and all of the other L.A. River tributaries fall under the permit, but Ballona Creek and the L.A . region’s lakes were not included in this critical action.

The heroes of the day were Regional Water Board staff, especially Renee Purdy, and acting board chair Madelyn Glickfeld.  Numerous environmental groups and Long Beach councilwoman Suja Lowenthal provided compelling testimony. Lowenthal made it clear that Long Beach is sick and tired of receiving the wretched refuse from the rest of the L.A. River watershed.  Long Beach often looks like a trash dump after a rain, and walking across San Pedro Bay sometimes seems possible.

Opposition to cleaning up trash from the river came from our old friends at the Coalition for Practical(ly no) Regulation.  Despite the Gateway cities receiving $10 million in Recovery Act funds from the state and the feds to comply with the trash TMDL, some Gateway CPR cities inexplicably opposed making trash limits enforceable.

All of the opposing cities claimed to be in full compliance with the trash limits a full year ahead of time. Because the cities were in full compliance, and the cost of putting in catch basin screens and inserts is very reasonable (about $700 to $1200 per basin), the Regional Board didn’t seem convinced that the trash TMDL should be strictly voluntary. 

Clearly the board believes that a trash abatement program relying only on Hoots the Owl, “Don’t litter” messages on plastic bags and foam cups, and toothless, non-enforceable signage about trash dumping is not enough to stop the scourge of debris-strewn beaches and bays.  

Happy holidays to everyone, especially marine life.  I’m glad to say that Southern California Coastal waters will not be getting a lump of coal this holiday season.

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