A Wave of Memories, Part 2

A hare-brained idea: having Gov. Gray Davis get up close and personal with the invertebrates at Heal the Bay's S.M. Pier Aquarium

Mark shares some more of his more memorable moments at Heal the Bay:

The Ahmanson Ranch campaign.  I remember: touring the watershed with Board President Tony Pritzker and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, representing Washington Mutual.  Flying up to a WaMu shareholders meeting with Rob Reiner and Alfre Woodard on a private jet to protest the development.  The coalition of Hollywood (Chris Albrecht and Reiner), electeds, Native Americans, Mary Weisbrock and Save Open Space, Heal the Bay (Mark Abramson’s covert maps of Ahmanson Ranch riparian habitat were key), and the brilliant campaign work of Chad Griffin and Steve Barkan.  Getting screamed at by Reiner at a meeting.  The only other person that ever yelled at me like that was my dad.  I can only imagine what would have happened if we lost! The anti-climactic press event celebration when the state purchased the land (Governor Davis was being recalled).  The joy of taking my kids, Zack, Jake and Natalie, to the Ranch just days after it opened to the public.

Litigation  I’ve always been a “sue as a last resort” kind of advocate, but sometimes litigation is the only solution.  NRDC’s Joel Reynolds and I spent countless hours with former L.A. County Sanitation Districts’ GM Jim Stahl to settle the full secondary treatment lawsuit about the Carson plant.  Once we got through the “sewage is good for the fish arguments” (thank you Willard Bascom of the Southern California Coastal Waters Research Project in the late 1980s) and the “sewage solids are needed to cover up the DDT and PCB contaminated sediments” or “two wrongs make a right” argument, we were able to negotiate a resolution quickly.  In fact, it only took the Sanitation Districts four years to build its full secondary facilities.  Also, we partnered with NRDC on some industrial waste litigation and an industrial stormwater lawsuit against the Port of Long Beach (led by current criminal court judge Gail Ruderman Feuer).  I still remember all the inspections of pretty nasty Port facilities.

TMDLs  The litigation over EPA’s failure to implement the Total Maximum Daily Load requirements for L.A. and Ventura Counties’ impaired waters was an enormous victory for clean water.  Also, the settlement process and consent decree negotiations took my working relationships with David Beckman of NRDC and Steve Fleischli (then at the SM Baykeeper) to the next level.  That effort made us brothers in arms.  We all wanted numeric limits in stormwater permits and TMDLs  gave us the chance to make that happen for the region’s most polluted waters.  Also, like any set of brothers, there were a lot of insults flying around and silly, macho one-upmanship.  Science versus the law – to the death on the battlefield of regulation! Our caustic banter was great fun for the three of us, but it freaked out all of our staffs. I’m pretty sure that most dischargers got a little intimidated when the three of us walked into a regional or state board hearing room to argue a permit or a TMDL.

Water Board memories are endless: The David Nahai era when the most far-reaching Total Maximum Daily Loads (fecal bacteria, trash and metals) and the 2001 stormwater permit were approved.  Getting the “band” back together when NRDC’s David Beckman, the Waterkeeper  Alliance’s Steve Fleischli (now at NRDC), SM Baykeeper’s Tracy Egoscue and myself testified successfully on getting the beach bacteria TMDL limits in the stormwater permit. I remember when a Board in the early 1990s approved five L.A. County Sanitation Districts sewage discharge permits on the consent calendar despite the fact we had commented on the permits.  I arrived at the hearing in Glendale at 9:30, right after the Board vote. In 1996, we culminated a 40-day fight for a tougher stormwater permit (with help from Andy Goodman and the Environmental Media Assn.) with a big rally: T-shirts, Baykeeper Terry Tamminen leading protest chants, Julia Louis Dreyfus speaking at a press event, and a unanimous Board support vote.

Working with Linda Sheehan, the brilliant, attention-deprived, kick- boxing, lawyer from the Ocean Conservancy and the California Coastkeeper Alliance (now at Earth Law working on Rights of Nature issues).  The MIT chemical engineer with a law degree from Berkeley may be the most efficient person I’ve ever worked with.  She can crank out a 30-page comment letter in two days, and she has on issues ranging from nonpoint source management to stormwater to chemicals of emerging concern to once through cooling.  She’s the only person I know that can text, listen, write and negotiate at the same time.  Richard Katz is close though.

Passings  Getting the news from then Heal the Bay E.D. Adi Liberman that a policeman was on the phone from Vancouver.  I was told the devastating news that my father had passed away of a heart attack while I was at my desk. Talking to my mom seconds after that was among the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Clean Beach Initiative  Then-Assemblymember Fran Pavley calling us to ask how bond money could be used to clean up California’s most polluted beaches.  Two hours later, we created the Clean Beach Initiative, and Pavley ran with it. To date, over $100 million has gone to cleaning up beaches and beach scientific research.

More Pavley She partnered with then-Heal the Bay legal director Leslie Tamminen on the Education and Environment Initiative. Fran carried the bill.  Leslie and I came up with the audacious idea to require environmental education in all public schools.  Leslie did everything possible to make it happen.  The bill signing ceremony was at our aquarium, with Governor Davis and Pierce and Keely Brosnan there for the announcement.  I still remember how mortified Davis was when aquarist Jose Bacallao and I gave him a sea hare to hold.

The Den Mother Leslie watchdogged the EEI bill every step of the way.  There was no way that the measure wouldn’t get implemented on her watch.  It cost her a lot of baked goods, cards, flowers and other gifts to ensure that the EEI’s 85 units were finished and approved by the Department of Education in a timely fashion.  Leslie was also the den mother for Heal the Bay.  In 1999, I had an incredibly stressful four-month period with two back surgeries and a heart surgery.  Clearly, my stress addiction had consequences.  On top of that, Lisette gave birth to our daughter Natalie before my heart surgery.  Leslie was there for me every step of the way to help me through it.  Lisette and I will always be thankful for that.

Throughout the week: more nostalgia …

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