Son of Westwood

Gold: heading back to school

After spending more than half of my life at Heal the Bay, I’ve decided to move on and test the waters in academia at my alma mater, UCLA.  The decision to step down as president of Heal the Bay was one of the toughest decisions of my life.  I’ve put my heart and soul into this place and most of my closest friendships are with staff, board, volunteers and colleagues. 

As an organization, Heal the Bay has accomplished so much in the last 26 years.  No one can say that our local coastal waters are more polluted or that our coastal resources are less protected than they were when the organization started in 1985.  Coming to work every day to work on improving everyone’s quality of life in the region, and protecting aquatic life was the best job I could realistically imagine. (I hope Vin Scully will always have the best job I could unrealistically imagine holding). My decision to step down marks a mid-life crisis of sorts. For the last five years, I’ve been obsessed by thoughts that I could have a larger beneficial impact in the environmental field.  My experience as an an Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Catto Fellow made me think a great deal about the future and having larger impact.

Through the fellowship, our class of 20 focused on the the ineffectiveness of international environmental governance.  An eye-opening examination of multi-national environmental agreements, the UN Environmental Progam, and the UN environmental Millennium Development Goals made me appreciate Heal the Bay’s efforts on a local, regional and statewide scale even more.  Despite my increasing awareness that the “Think Global, Act Local” paradigm is most effective way to go on environmental issues, I came to the conclusion that I needed to move on for another reason. After 23 years at Heal the Bay, I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted and I needed a new set of challenges.

I spent a lot of time thinking about when I should move on from Heal the Bay.  I certainly didn’t want to leave when our founding president and my mentor and dear friend, Dorothy Green, was battling terminal cancer five years ago.  Also, leaving Heal the Bay shortly thereafter wouldn’t have been in the organization’s best interest.  Now seems to be a good time for a number of selfish and unselfish reasons.  Selfishly, we had a great year last year.  An amazing year:

Los Angeles approved a groundbreaking Low Impact Development ordinance and 10-year funding for sewer infrastructure and treatment plant maintenance and upgrades.  Long Beach passed a similar LID ordinance and a plastic bag ban.

 The L.A. County Department of Public Health approved rainwater-use guidelines that provide certainty and clarity for future projects that capture local water supply from stormwater.  Santa Monica and L.A. County’s plastic bag bans went into effect.  Although extremely controversial, a State District Court judge upheld the State Parks and Coastal Conservancy’s Malibu Lagoon Restoration plan.

The state legislature passed the most important marine conservation bill of the last decade: a prohibition on the sale of shark fins. The Regional Water Board and Malibu entered into an agreement requiring the completion of a water recycling plant in the civic center by 2015, with commitments to hook up commercial facilities and residential properties causing or contributing to pollution at Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach.

And the network of marine protected areas in Southern California, including MPAs off Palos Verdes, Malibu and Catalina, went into effect after years of studies, stakeholder negotiations and public deliberation. Leaving on the high note of an extremely successful 2011 provides a sense of closure and satisfaction.

Unselfishly, Heal the Bay has an incredible senior leadership team that has been ready to run the group without me for years.  The directors are all hard-working, experienced, gifted leaders that have accomplished a great deal, and they will achieve even more with the opportunity to make bigger decisions.

Meanwhile, it’s back to school for me.  I’m really looking forward to a new set of challenges, helping to build the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, teaching and working with students, and learning about environmental research and policy outside California’s water world.

My history at UCLA is nearly as extensive as at Heal the Bay.  I was born there, went to pre-school there, completed my bachelors, masters and doctorate there, and I teach there as adjunct faculty. I met my wonderful wife of 21 years as a fellow student in UCLA’s Environmental Science and Engineering doctoral program. I gave the commencement to the graduating organismal biology students a few years back.  My brothers and mother went to UCLA as well.  And yes, I was there when we owned USC in football and I even saw the Bruins win the hoops championship over Arkansas in Seattle in 1995.  Most important, genius cardiac surgeon Hillel Laks, saved my son Jake’s life with heart surgery on his second day of life. 

Heal the Bay will always be a defining part of me, and I’ll remain active as a board member. I’ll miss the advocacy and the fights for safe, healthy and clean water.  I’ll miss the camaraderie and elation after big wins.  I’ll miss wearing shorts and T-shirts to work on days without meetings.  I’ll miss working a mile from home.  I’ll miss the dedicated, wonderful staff and volunteers.  And I’ll miss working every day on issues that mean so much to so many in the region.  But there’s much, much more to do …

Go Bruins!

Tomorrow: Some of the more memorable moments at Heal the Bay

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