Beach Report Card Most of the best BRC stories aren’t mine, but I have a few. I remember sitting down with my first staff hire, Roger Gorke – now with the EPA office of water in D.C. — to create the first report card. It was an annual study and only included Santa Monica Bay beaches. The early report cards often resulted in irate calls from electeds that somehow blamed us for their poor water quality. We had many press conferences with Dr. Aliza (Lifshitz) providing a medical perspective and talking to the Spanish language media. One year, she had to carry the whole press event at Cabrillo Beach because I literally had no voice! James Alamillo and Mike Grimmer have taken the BRC through many incarnations, but the efforts of former Microsoft exec Jeff Littrell and former staffer Tom Fleming in making the leap to a statewide report card on the website was huge! Amy Smart has come through as a spokesperson for the Beach Report Card, Annual Dinner, Day Without a Bag and Coastal Cleanup Day. I’m so glad Heal the Bay is honoring her at the annual dinner on May 17 this year.
Starstruck An event at a Santa Monica bar where rock Hall of Famers John Densmore and Ray Manzarek from the Doors made a generous donation, and The Surfers (Kelly Slater, Peter King and Rob Machado) played in front of an enthusiastic crowd including Pamela Anderson.
My dissertation research on pathogens in stormdrain runoff and the fate and transport of runoff plumes on the beach. It never would have been possible without dozens of volunteers collecting samples during all sorts of conditions, support from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, and the analytical efforts of L.A.’s Environmental Monitoring Division, and virologist Charlie McGee and his crew at the Los Angeles and Orange County Sanitation Districts. The research demonstrated that human sewage was getting into stormdrains, which led to the first-ever epidemiology study on swimmers in runoff contaminated waters. The study demonstrated that people that swim at runoff polluted beaches were far more likely to get sick. These results were the catalyst for AB 411, a state bill that established California beach water quality standards and a beach monitoring and reporting program.
Cleanups So many cleanups. The scope and scale of trash at Compton Creek, year after year. James Alamillo finding 10- foot-high marijuana plants in the creek bed. All of the weird items found during Coastal Cleanup Day: I’ve always been partial to the pumpkin filled with eggs and the whole bathroom found on the PV coast. My grey tabby-cat Ballona, now 11, a rescue from Ballona Creek. The Coastal Cleanup Day specials – KTLA GM Don Corsini and new Board chair Stephanie Rodriguez always made them happen. Beach cleanups with the Lakers’ Fisher, Van Exel and Ceballos. Sparks with Lisa Leslie. And the most memorable one : last year with the Dodgers’ Fernando, Garvey, shoulda-been-MVP Matt Kemp, Shawn Green, and Sweet Lou Johnson. I loved the stories from Johnson and Garvey.
Stream Team Mark Abramson, or Abe, has always been the highlight. The chain-smoking, Altoid popping, quad-vente swilling architect of the Stream Team program is one of a kind. There are so many different Abe stories, ranging from his covert mapping activities on Ahmanson Ranch, to walking through stinging nettles on a stream mapping foray, to getting profiled on “Dirty Jobs” for removing a steelhead passage barrier in Solstice, and fighting with him because he wanted to sue everyone under the sun. He even got evicted from his guest house in Serra Retreat because he wanted the Arizona Crossing replaced with a bridge (a major benefit for Malibu Creek). But my favorite moment was visiting him while he was removing the Texas crossing in Malibu Creek. He was sitting in a folding chair while his crew members were breaking their backs removing all of the cement by hand! A great restoration success, and Abe didn’t even break a sweat that day.
Acquiring the Aquarium I negotiated with UCLA for two years to develop a partnership to co-manage the aquarium. Former Heal the Bay intern and longtime Fenton Communications executive Parker Blackman helped make the negotiations happen with his Dad, vice chancellor Pete Blackman. We finished the negotiations and then UCLA decided that the fiscal crisis of the early 2000s was too much to keep the aquarium going. So they gave the aquarium to Heal the Bay – an organization-changing event that gave us a public face and provided educational opportunities on Bay biodiversity, pollution prevention and marine conservation to visitors from the region and beyond. The early days when every rain was an adventure because the aquarium had a roof like a sieve. How the water running down the electrical conduits never caused a fire is a mystery to me. And who could forget the eight- legged vandal that made international news by flooding the aquarium! My best memories are seeing my son Zack work behind the tidepool counter as a volunteer and daughter Natalie dragging me back to the life support to see the animals not on display.
Gutter Patrol was an enormous program that had volunteers stencil 50,000 plus catch basins with a “No Dumping. This Drains to Ocean” message. You can still see some of the original stencils with fishbones on some catch basins in L.A. Lisa Dobbins was dubbed the Gutter Queen for leading this enormous effort. I still remember when we invited her over for dinner and asked her to bake a cake. She made a chocolate cake and decorated it with the catch basin stencil. The dinner party was in fact a surprise birthday party for Lisa. She baked her own B-day cake!
Sickening stories There have been a lot of dramatic beach water quality stories. The most tragic was that of the young Pepperdine student Danny Villanueva, who died of a Coxsackie B heart infection (cardiomyopathy) in 1992. I still remember when he called me before his first heart transplant because our report on viruses in Malibu Lagoon had just come out. He was so sure that he got sick from surfing at Surfirder even though the virus could have come from other sources. Perhaps the most famous incidences of illness from swimming were the lifeguards that worked at the beach in front of the Pico-Kenter drain in the 70s and early 80s. Although cause and effect was never demonstrated (most of the cancers were different), the focus on lifeguard safety in polluted waters became a major cause that helped lead to the creation of Heal the Bay.
The skirmish in Surf City The most vivid beach battle I remember was over the sources of pollution to Huntington Beach during the summer of 1999. AB 411 began implementation that year so beach monitoring increased statewide. Surf City was so polluted that the health agencies closed the beach during the height of the summer season, including Labor Day. As a result, approximately $20 million was spent over the next few years to find out what caused the pollution problems during the summer of 1999. Unfortunately, the effort was like chasing ghosts. The water quality never got as bad again as it did that summer. Great research was done by a wide variety of agencies that helped on beach water quality modeling and better understanding how water quality can vary with tidal cycle and tide magnitude. Also, the enormous sanitary survey did result in some small sources getting abated and the sewage treatment plant outfall’s discharge getting cleared as the likely source of beach pollution. My most vivid memory was a public hearing/witch hunt in Huntington hosted by then Assemblyman Scott Baugh. I felt like I was hearing from the Amity mayor in “Jaws.” All of the discussion was about the economic impacts of beach closures, and how AB 411 needed to be revealed. I played the Dreyfus role by speaking passionately about the health risks of swimming in waters highly polluted with fecal bacteria.
Road warrior Running in the Santa Monica Classic while suffering through a gout attack. Enough said.
Countless memories of Dorothy Press conferences where she called runoff a witch’s brew of toxins. Dorothy chairing our annual meetings and the first few annual dinners. Slide shows of her trips with her beloved husband Jack. Nine carousels was the record. Debates over the issues. Learning how to effectively advocate. Admiring how she treated every volunteer as if they were the key to Heal the Bay’s success. Numerous meetings in her living room where every Heal the Bay detail was discussed. Monthly lunches with Paula Daniels and Madelyn Glickfeld. Board meetings. Science and Policy Committee meetings. Watching her in awe as she continually battled cancer and stood up to polluters. My disappointment that DWP Commission members and environmental leaders Dorothy Green, Mary Nichols and Mike Gage couldn’t even turn that agency around on water recycling and rainwater capture. The joy on Dorothy’s face when she finally finished her book on managing California’s water crisis. Cindy Horn hosting the book event. Working with Paula to record her final op-ed on what California needed to fix its ongoing water crisis. Thinking of Dorothy every Wednesday night in winter as Paula and I teach the UCLA Leadership in Water Management Class in her honor.
Tomorrow: a few more memories