At Last, a Bag Ban in Santa Monica

Samohi's Team Marine led fight to ban bags.

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday night that bans single use plastic and paper bags, but allows retailers to sell “green” paper bags for at least a dime.  Due to the passage of Proposition 26 with its chilling impact on government’s ability to create and raise fees, Santa Monica abandoned  its original ordinance, which would have put the paper-bag fee at a quarter with some of the revenue coming back to the city. Instead, leaders opted to model their bill after  L.A. County’s recently approved ban.

Fifty people came out to support the bag ban ordinance, about 25 students with Santa Monica High School Team Marine teacher Ben Kay and 25 attendees from environmental groups and the general public.  As you might have expected, the students stole the show.  Dressed in costumes ranging from bag man to straw student to lid lady to bottle boy, the students came out during finals week to advocate for the bag ban.  In a proud moment for me, my son Zack, an ocean swimmer and three year co-president of the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club, testified in support of the ordinance.  Zack reminded council members that he started testifying to them as a freshman.  Now he’s a graduating senior.

Santa Monica is the undisputed greenest city in California (OK, Berkeley will dispute that). How did it take its leaders nearly four years to ban single use bags? If you guessed ongoing litigation threats from the Coalition to Save the Plastic Bag, then you’ve been paying attention.

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Mapping a Life’s Work

Guest blogger Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s director of coastal resources, offers some advice on navigating the backroom battles of environmental policy-making. She served on a stakeholder panel that helped negotiate a highly contentious network of marine protected areas in Southern California.
The holiday season continues with the recognition of a little-known holiday, Underwater Parks Day, this weekend. And, this year we have a lot to celebrate. The California Fish and Game Commission made history last month by adopting the first network of marine protected areas (MPAs) for Southern California, marking our region’s first system of underwater parks. As a staff scientist at Heal the Bay, I played a role in the often contentious efforts to assemble the MPA maps, which set aside strategic sections of our shoreline for protection from fishing and other consumptive uses.

Sikich exploring boundaries off Point Dume

It will take years for the full history of our work to be written, but in the spirit of New Year’s introspection, I’ve been reflecting about the grueling but rewarding process. I’ve felt a slew of emotions – overwhelmed (in a positive way), pride and a smidge of disbelief. I had studied and educated about MPAs for over a decade, as a lowly undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, teaching at the Catalina Island Marine Institute, and then conducting my graduate research at U.C. Santa Barbara. And then I got to play an active role in the actual implementation of MPAs in Southern California. It isn’t every day that you to get to fulfill a professional dream.

As a member of the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group — one of 64 individuals appointed to represent interests including commercial and recreational fishing, conservationists, local officials, and educators — I’ve spent hundreds of hours of personal and professional time over the past several years researching the South Coast, negotiating boundaries and creating MPA proposals that ultimately influenced the final Fish and Game decision. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through professionally, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there were moments I considered quitting the process.

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Regime Change

Good things often happen when governors leave office.

This past December may go down as the most productive month for regional  water quality and coastal ecosystem protection since September 2003. Last month featured five critical positive decisions:

Los Angeles approved the Low Impact Development Ordinance for the city.  The measure will reduce runoff pollution, increase rainwater capture and use, and improve flood control.  Also, Long Beach approved a similar LID measure in its updated building code in November.

Speaking of Long Beach, the city joined Los Angeles County in banning single use plastic bags.  Like the county, the ban will kick in this summer.

The California Department of Fish and Game approved a network of Marine Protected Areas for Southern California.  The network of MPAs marks the next critical puzzle piece in the state’s development of a statewide network.  Now Central California, the Channel Islands and Southern California all have MPAs, which is great news for marine life along our coast.

The Los Angeles Unified School District passed a far reaching water conservation ordinance that will save the school district money, conserve millions of gallons of water annually, and serve as an example for the rest of the state.

The State Water Board voted to uphold the Once Through Cooling policy for coastal power plants in California.  Proposed amendments would have gutted the new policy before it was ever applied.  As a result of the State Water Board vote, the heavily negotiated, 5-years-in-the-making compromise will be used to assess compliance plans from the power plants this summer.  LADWP’s plans for its three power plants should be the first in line to go through the  process.  This was definitely a December to remember.

For the historians among you, September 2003 delivered several great outcomes, most notably the conservation-minded purchase of Ahmanson Ranch and a major section of the Ballona Wetlands, and the approval of the groundbreaking Education and the Environment Initiative that mandates green education in California classrooms. 

So what does September 2003 have in common with December 2010?

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