Day and Night

EPA chief Lisa Jackson tests water in Compton Creek.

Wednesday was a rewarding whirlwind: An extraordinary afternoon in the Compton Creek, a stimulating evening roundtable at the Skirball, and an after-hours meal in Venice. 

A few weeks ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reached out to Heal the Bay to let us know that chief Lisa Jackson would be visiting the L.A. area and that she wanted to visit Compton Creek.

Heal the Bay contacted Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to set up a tour for Jackson at Compton Creek. The agreed-upon plan was to announce the long-anticipated purchase of the four-acre soft-bottomed section of Compton Creek and a request to Jackson for federal assistance to develop a flood-control improvement plan based on a low-impact development approach rather than raising the walls on the river.

Heal the Bay also worked with the Army Corps of Engineers on a commitment to move forward with a pilot trash-capture net project to be implemented this rainy season. Compton Creek after a rain is the most trashed waterbody in L.A. County, and maybe even in the state, so innovative approaches to keeping the trash out of the watershed beyond catch-basin screens and inserts are critical.

All of the agencies enthusiastically agreed to participate in the big announcements. After all, if we can work together to clean up and enhance Compton Creek, then any water body can be rehabilitated to provide recreational and ecological benefits.

Everyone pulled together to put on a good event yesterday. More than 100 people came out to Compton Creek. But Lisa Jackson stole the show. She was eloquent and gracious in her support of the creek efforts. Also, she made the blockbuster announcement that EPA (stated in a letter from Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld) is expanding the Traditional Navigable Waters definition to include the entire 50-mile Los Angeles River.

EPA heard the concerns of the public and the environmental community, and its leaders acted to ensure that Clean Water Act protections apply to the entire watershed. The move will provide protection to numerous streams draining from the L.A. Basin into the river. As Jackson put it: “Today, EPA is making it clear that protecting urban rivers is just as important as protecting the most pristine stream.” It marked a great day for L.A. County’s urban creeks and for Compton Creek.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas did an excellent job speaking about the importance of turning neighborhoods around and how the county efforts to work with the MRCA keyed the creek purchase. Other speakers included Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and the brand new Army Corps colonel for the region, Mark Toy.

After the press event, Miguel Luna of Urban Semillas with his Agua University grads (local high school students) led Jackson and the Ridley-Thomas down to the creek for a few photo ops and some lessons in water chemistry. The Administrator and Supervisor looked pretty sporty in their rubber boots as they waded into the creek.

The Compton Creek event marked the first game in my day-night double header. After the EPA event, I headed up to the Skriball Center for a mano a mano with my food-critic brother Jonathan at a Zocalo event about the sustainability of fishing stocks around the world. About 300 folks came out to the check out the fisticuffs about making the right choices when ordering a meal at a restaurant or buying fish at the local supermarket.

My brother served as moderator and he started a little slow. I think he, like me, felt nervous that the other two panelists, Logan Kock from Santa Monica Seafood and Michael Cimarusti of Providence, know a helluva lot more about seafood than we do.

The first half hour or so may have been more appropriate for Scripps than for a general-audience town hall meeting. All of us spoke in acronyms and delved quickly into some sustainable seafood issues that might require post-graduate marine biology training to fully grasp.

But after a while, we found a rhythm that made the discourse more personal. Michael talked about some of the carefully considered choices he makes when assembling menus at Providence. Logan, the walking seafood encyclopedia, recounted some of his firsthand observations of fishing practices in locations ranging from Alaska to Asia. He also provided an explanation of and support for Marine Stewardship Council certification and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Choice programs.

We all agreed that diners should stop eating bluefin tuna, whose numbers have dwindled to shocking levels because of overfishing and lax regulation. Michael even got the entire audience to raise their hands in support. I followed up with asking the public to make a commitment to stop eating live octopus. This was a jibe at my bro’s exploits at a K-Town eatery. The motion generated laughs, but not much visible support.

The panelists strongly supported California’s efforts to set up Marine Protected Areas. From Logan and Michael’s perspective, MPAs are an important part of managing seafood stocks and enhancing coastal ecology. They felt that the MPA program would have negligible economic impacts on their successful businesses.

Other issues that got brought up included mercury contamination (pregnant women should avoid tuna, shark, tilefish and barracuda, and everyone should eat lower on the food chain), shark consumption (we all agreed that shark fin soup or other shark fin dishes should be banned), and farm-raised salmon.

After discussion on the generally negative environmental and culinary impacts of farm-raised salmon, I described the worst salmon dish I ever consumed: the breaded farm-raised monstrosity served at the Pulitzer Prize award event where Jonathan received his criticism award. The horror. The horror.  

The day ended at midnight. Jonathan, my sister-in-law Laurie Ochoa and others finished an excellent dinner at Sauce in Venice (killer Chocolate Chip Mac Nut cookies) provided by the owner-chef, Sassan Rostamian. Sassan checked out the sustainable seafood event and then invited us back to his restaurant, which he kept open just for us. How cool is that? Definitely a great end to a long and eventful day.  And yes, we paid.

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  1. […] Day and Night (Spouting Off) […]

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