Roasting and Toasting

Garcetti getting the better of Gold

Today’s guest blogger is Matthew King, Heal the Bay’s director of communications.

Parting can be such sweet sorrow, the Bard once aptly noted.  But speakers at a recent farewell roast of Mark Gold seemed to relish dishing out more sorrow than sweetness to Heal the Bay’s just departed president. As the sun set gently over Mark’s beloved Bay, more than 200 friends, family members, current and former staffers, board members, environmental leaders and elected officials gathered at The Beach Club in Santa Monica to send him off to his new gig at UCLA.

Mark escaped being doused in a dunk-tank (thanks to an innovative last-minute fundraising plea to gathered guests), but he couldn’t escape the pointed darts hurled by some of the city’s most influential leaders. He definitely took some ribbing about his hyper-zealous advocacy, wonky-nerdiness and need to always be the brightest bulb in the room.

Eric Garcetti, a veteran member of the Los Angeles City Council, described Mark as the “poop in the ocean guy” who “speaks acronym, not English.” He recounted his utter disappointment about Mark’s reaction to the council enacting a difficult piece of environmental legislation. “He’s always sitting on that high horse. And after you did 90% of the things he asked you to do, then he’d turn around and yell at you about the 10% you didn’t!”

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S.M. Does the Rights Thing

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously supported a resolution last night affirming individual environmental rights to clean air, water and soil, sustainable water and food supplies, and a climate unaltered by anthropogenic impacts.  Nearly 40 speakers ranging from high school and college students to environmental activists from Northern California spoke in support of the sustainability bill of rights.

The resolution, crafted by Santa Monica city staff in response to a draft ordinance recommended by the city’s Task Force on the Environment, commits the city to come back this summer with recommended legal changes to allow individuals to protect those rights.  Although the council vote only approved a resolution instead of a legally enforceable ordinance, the action puts the city on track to a process that provides individuals defensible environmental rights and extends protective rights to local natural resources.

Last night was a first step towards changing the dialogue on environmental protection in Santa Monica, and hopefully that shift in dialogue will move far beyond the city’s borders. The recommended legal changes to Santa Monica law will come to the city council at the same time as the third iteration (and third decade) of goals and metrics under Santa Monica’s Sustainable City Plan. We could see a draft as early as mid-summer.

We all have the right to clean air, water and soil, and corporate rights should never supersede these rights.  The time is now to move from just voluntary intentions to making these sustainability goals legal, enforceable obligations.

 

L.A. Bag Ban Sends Strong Message

Will L.A. bag ban finally spur Sacramento to action?

The Los Angeles City Council’s energy and environment committee today approved an action asking for a Chief Administrative Officer-Chief Legislative Analyst report on a single-use bag ban within 30 days. Also, the Bureau of Sanitation must implement a public outreach program over the next 60 days.

Immediately after the committee meeting, the city council met to celebrate outgoing president Eric Garcetti’s long-term leadership. After Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue and the rest of the festivities, the council heard the bag-ban item.

Councilmember Paul Koretz amended councilmember Jan Perry’s E+E committee motion by including a March 31 deadline for final ordinance approval. In addition, public outreach and environmental review will all occur in parallel and will start immediately.

Nearly all of the present councilmembers strongly expressed their support for a plastic bag ban as soon as possible. Once again, the environmental community, neighborhood councils, the California Grocers Assn. and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce came out to support.

The council action today sends a loud message to Sacramento to move forward with a statewide ban. A continued patchwork quilt of various bag bans doesn’t make sense for the economy or for the environment. With the city of L.A. and its 4 million residents moving forward without plastic bags, the future of California could be truly plastic-bag free within the next year or two.

L.A. City Council Vote, Not in the Bag … Yet

A historic vote to bag single-use bags in L.A. is set for Friday at City Hall.

The Los Angeles City Council heard testimony from over 60 people today on the long-awaited single-use plastic bag ban.  The environmental community was well represented and attired in natty green.  Other supporters included reusable bag manufacturers, the California Grocers Assn., the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, and 17 neighborhood councils!  Clearly, a life without single-use plastic bags is a popular movement that has grown well beyond L.A. County, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica, Calabasas and other SoCal cities.

Opposition was provided by bag man Stephen “This bag is more than a toy” Joseph and Crown Poly bag manufacturing staff.  Joseph tried to tie the city council vote to California’s ranking by industry titans as the place they’d least likely want to do business.  I’m not sure where the ranking came from, but Joseph did say that Texas was No. 1.  Enough said.

Thanks to a prior commitment to the environmental community from Council President Eric Garcetti, the City Council heard the testimony. However, members were uncomfortable taking action without the bag ban first going through the Energy and Environment Committee.

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Paper Bites Dog Story

Instead of dog beaches, the L.A. Times should focus on more far-reaching environmental issues.

The Los Angeles Times editorialized today that mutts should be given a chance at a pilot Santa Monica dog beach. Last week I spoke with editorial writer Carla Hall for 45 minutes on why the dog beach would be a bad idea for public health protection, environmental compliance, and the preservation of endangered and threatened wildlife. Unfortunately, her mind seemed clearly made up. Even suggestions for Hall to hang out at our local dog park for a few hours fell on deaf ears.

Clearly, science and credible opponents (state parks, lifeguards, NRDC and others) didn’t tip the scales for her. Idyllic visions of Fido frolicking in the surf were too compelling. 

I can’t say I was surprised by today’s piece.  But in light of all the facts, I had hoped she might support a recommendation for an enclosed dog beach away from endangered wildlife and away from the intertidal zone. But she stuck to her original position.

But there’s something more disturbing than the L.A. Times taking a position in favor of dog beaches despite environmental and public health concerns. What’s troubling is its failure to adequately cover more important environmental issues in the editorial or news sections.

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Rights of Nature in Santa Monica

Santa Monica may follow Pittsburgh's footsteps in codifying fundamental rights of nature.

In the Citizens United case last year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that corporations have the same rights as citizens. The ruling already has changed the face of electoral politics in America, with unlimited campaign contributions by corporations for communications now apparently a First Amendment right. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously stated in Iowa last August that corporations are persons.  And the Occupy movement has continually spoken out about the disproportionate influence of Big Business in the United States.

In response to the corporate personhood issue, and the lack of progress statewide and nationally on a wide variety of environmental issues, the Santa Monica Task Force on the Environment worked with Global Exchange, Earthlaw and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to develop a draft Sustainability Bill of Rights.  The draft includes elements of the Rights of Nature ordinances that have passed in Pittsburgh and numerous towns concerned about the impacts of industry on local water supplies.

The draft also includes elements of Santa Monica’s renowned Sustainable City Plan, which was first approved by city council 17 years ago. And finally, the draft includes fundamental environmental rights that every person should have.  These are a modified version of the environmental bill of rights I recommended back in 2008 in this blog.

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Citing health concerns, State Parks has put the kibosh on the notion of creating a dog beach in Santa Monica. Photo courtesy of OC Weekly.

In Santa Monica, there are two environmental issues that seem to come up every five years like clockwork: fluoridation of drinking water and dog beaches.  A few weeks ago, the Santa Monica City Council decided to mollify the dog beach supporters by voting 6-1 to study the feasibility of a dog beach in the city.  

Thankfully, the latest battle over dog beaches seems to have come to an abrupt end with state officials making it clear to Santa Monica staff that they will not provide necessary approvals. 

As the president of Heal the Bay, a scientist with a doctorate on the health risks of swimming at polluted beaches, the owner of three rescue dogs, a father of three, and the longtime chair of the city’s Environmental Task Force, I’ve been involved at every level imaginable of the great dog beach debate for 15 years.

Although Santa Monica beach water quality has improved dramatically in the last three years (thanks to voter support of Measure V), our beaches still don’t consistently meet water quality standards for fecal bacteria.

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