I started volunteering at Heal the Bay as a 22-year- old in 1986. Over the last 25 years, I have some amazing memories. Here is an extremely abridged list of a few of the most memorable.
My first hearing at the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. L.A. County San’s general manager, Chuck Carry, chewed my head off publicly for stating that the Carson Plant was violating the Clean Water Act’s sludge dumping prohibition by discharging centrate (the liquid removed from centrifuged sludge) off of Palos Verdes. After the Regional Board ruled that Heal the Bay was right, wise and kindly board member Chuck Vernon came over to me to offer support for hanging in there against Carry. Definitely a Mean Joe Green-Coke moment. That was the first of my over 200 Regional and State Water Board meetings.
Heal the Bay’s annual meetings At one meeting, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson and Attorney General John Van De Kamp, two of the three gubernatorial candidates in 1990, gave plenary talks. Wilson announced for the first time that he would create Cal-EPA if he was elected. He won the seat and he did just that. Other annual meetings included a Senate environmental debate between eventual winner Barbara Boxer, Congressman and Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project founder Mel Levine, and Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy, and an L.A. mayoral environmental debate with every candidate but the eventual winner, Richard Riordan. I still remember then-Councilman Nate Holden stating that he’d make Santa Monica Bay drinkable if he was elected.
Surfboard Art — one of the most creative, amazing events in non-profit group history. The brainchild of Olympic swimmer John Moffat, the project gave America’s top artists a Clark Foam blank that they could decorate as they saw fit. The creativity of Board member Cydney Mandel and the leadership of the Dill brothers were key. Boards were created by Lita Albuquerque, Laddie John and Guy Dill, Joni Mitchell, Peter Max, and Ed Moses. But despite a show in the Corcoran Gallery and other locales, it was a horrible fundraiser because the boards were raffled off rather than auctioned off.
Our nuptials My wife and I opted for a Heal the Bay wedding with lots of board members, volunteers and staff. The wedding cake was a cross-section of the ocean with benthic animals (crabs and lobsters) on the bottom and pelagic animals in the middle (white chocolate tuna and dolphins) and a Gray Whale tale on top. We even had ocean-themed sourdough breads on the buffet table. Lisette and I got married on a Saturday, before sundown, at the Malibu West Swim Club on beautiful Trancas Beach. Tough to find a reformed enough rabbi willing to work on the sabbath. We found one and he started the wedding exactly at 4 p.m. Half the guests had not arrived, including HTB’s founding president Dorothy Green. Dorothy’s husband Jack was going to film our wedding as a gift to us. Oops. We had to find the only rabbi in L.A. that started a wedding on time. We had a wonderful wedding that culminated in a gorgeous sunset with my bride. In the evening after nearly everyone left, my friends and I body surfed after the reception.
The birth of the logo In my biased opinion, Heal the Bay’s iconic fish-skeleton logo tells the story better than that of any other environmental group. Thank you Chiat Day and Gabrielle Mayeur. As a result, everyone in L.A. had to have a fishbones tee during the summer of 1988. Speaking of which, our first PSA was almost as memorable. Mark Pollock persuaded Laurie Coots and Chiat Day to put together the “Leave Something for Your Children to Remember You By” multimedia ad campaign. Billboards and a Screenvision PSA that ran in the movie theaters (before it became passé) did a remarkable job of building Heal the Bay awareness. Although I loved the home movie shots, I never liked the creepy voice of the ocean though. It should have been Sylvia Earle!
Other PSAs I’ll always be partial to the “Revenge” PSA with Tone Loc doing the voiceover after the dolphin and two sea lions trash a local neighborhood and scream off in a 1960s Oldsmabuick, laughing all the way. My brother Josh was the writer on the classic Chiat Day piece. Of course the other PSA that sticks with me is the hugely popular “Majestic Plastic Bag” mockumentary. I’ve always been a huge David Attenborough fan so I loved the DDB concept. Then creative director Kevin McCarthy started the search to find the right voiceover talent for the film. Eric Idle was interested, but the timing was wrong. I called boardmember-to-be Dayna Bochco to see if she knew Idle, Attenborough, Russell Brand, or Anthony Hopkins. Dayna answered, “I don’t know them, but I share the same agent as Jeremy Irons. Would he be OK?” After I regained consciousness, I assured Dayna that Irons would not only be a fine choice, he was the perfect choice. The only problem was that he was shooting a film in Budapest. No problem. DDB had an office in Budapest. Irons taped the voiceover a few days later. Only in L.A. and Hungary!
Consent Decree meetings with the sludge judge, Harry Pregerson, and the City of L.A. I really looked forward to these twice-a-year meetings where we discussed the progress at Hyperion and the problems cause by polluted runoff. Judge Pregerson always made you laugh, and he kept everyone on track. These meetings are where I learned so much about sewage treatment and where I developed relationships with city staff that lasted for 20 years. Those relationships were the key when Mayor Riordan and aides Michael Keeley and Chris O’Donnell tried to get the city to back out of the consent decree because of the cost of clean water. City staff would have none of it, let alone Judge Pregerson.
Going on a European vacation with my wife Lisette and watching CNN Headline News in Zurich to hear about Heal the Bay’s Children’s March for water, led by the cast of “thirtysomething.”
The leadership of Rim Fay and Tom Hayden. Rim was the Doc Ricketts of Santa Monica Bay, a brilliant, hard-living marine biologist that collected marine organisms for sale to researchers, colleges and universities. He logged more time in the Bay than anyone else. I got to see him in action at the Regional Water Board (he wore a lab coat and had a bottle of what smelled like sludge in sea water) and the Coastal Commission on many occasions. He was particularly passionate about the impacts of DDT, PCBs and the San Onofre nuclear power plant on marine life. Tom was the ultimate elected advocate. Like Rim, Tom was fearless and he was a fighter. A brilliant legislator, he helped mentor longtime Heal the Bay board members Adi Liberman, Cliff Gladstein and many others. He continually challenged me to do more as an environmental leader, and we worked together on fish contamination legislation and a number of other bills. Of all the legislators I’ve worked with, Tom understood how to use the media to win on a cause better than any of them. His constant search for corruption in politics, including environmental politics, was unique for a legislator. Tom still writes about numerous issues, especially the need for peace, but we’ve missed his eco-activism for quite some time.
Annual fundraising dinners. So many dinners and so many stories. I haven’t eaten at one since 1994. Some impressions: The first one in Santa Monica Place with Martin Short as emcee. Honoring the Bridges Family and Mayor Bradley. Talking to Lloyd about why environmental groups couldn’t work more effectively together to protect the coast. Seeing Perry Farrell in a white leather suit giving an award to Trip Reeb and KROQ. Cindy Horn and Felicia Marcus getting honored at the Water Garden. The line of people waiting to get their pictures taken with Pierce Brosnan. Lisette sitting next to the incredibly funny, kind and shy Phil Hartman at the dinner at the Beach Club. A year later, I asked Phil to join our board and he said yes because he was a sailor that loved the ocean. A week later, he was gone. Kenny Loggins playing at the old S.M. Museum of Flying. The magic of Brian Wilson. Three separate, amazing times. Stand-up with Billy Crystal. Freezing on the S.M. Pier while listening to Jack Johnson. Thankfully, we gave away beach towels to serve as warmth that year. Lisette’s purse getting swiped at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel – the same night that Bill Maher offended half the room and was hysterical for the other half. Jay Leno auctioning off a puppy at the dinner that honored longtime board member Julia Louis Dreyfus. Kim Francis and Luann Williams making centerpieces for countless hours. (Come to think of it, add Meredith McCarthy to that list too.) Or Barry Gribbon’s 10th annual last supper – he’s been the impresario behind the dinner, with Jennifer, for a decade. Finally honoring Dorothy – I still remember the standing O. The big 20th anniversary Over the Top blow-out under the big top next to Casa Del Mar – Hootie and the Blowfish and The Bangles capping off our most successful dinner ever. (Thank you Kelly Meyer.) Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger arriving after the dinner to receive his award for the Education and the Environment Initiative. “Baywatch” getting honored at the Petersen Museum – the producers even did a couple of Heal the Bay episodes. Don Smith getting congratulated via Skype, by his son serving in Afghanistan. Dorothy rocking out to Ozomatli, and so much more.
Tomorrow: More recollections of a labor of love