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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A Wave of Memories, Part 3

Dr. Aliza pinch hitting for Mark at a Beach Report Card presser

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.

The shark-fin sales ban campaign  Meeting with state Sen. Ted Lieu with Sue Chen, Yue Rong, Guangyu Wang, Donna Chen and our own Sarah Sikich.  We got nowhere and Sue Chen of Shark Savers was so peeved about giving away her two favorite shark puppets (Tiger and Hammerhead) to Lieu for his children.  Reading my brother Jonathan’s op-ed, one of the best pieces he’s ever written.  Watching in awe the work of Jennifer Fearing and the Humane Society.  The joy of getting the call when the bill was signed last 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.

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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.

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A Wave of Memories

Dorothy and Jack: mentors, friends ... and thwarted wedding photographers

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.

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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.

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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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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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Cowell Doesn’t Give a Toss About the Beach

Thank you Simon Cowell.  An irate Heal the Bay member wrote a scathing e-mail encouraging us to take a stand against your ocean pollution commercial. It’s bad enough that my 12-year-old daughter Natalie is obsessed with his “American Idol” rip-off, “The X-Factor.”  (Try getting her to study when she’s sucked into the battle among Kitty, Misha B and 2 Shoes.) But now he’s doing a Verizon “X-Factor” app promo that encourages the trashing of a Malibu beach. In the spot, Cowell is seen tossing cell phones off his beachside balcony onto the shoreline while disparaging them as rubbish.

Cell phones contain a wide variety of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, antimony, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc. They also can contain brominated flame retardants and phthalates. Perpetuating our throwaway culture to over 12 million viewers isn’t exactly helping the cause of ocean conservation.

Cowell ends the spot by admonishing a family on the beach to not pick up the trash.  Even the leashed puppy complies with the bombastic Brit’s orders. If Cowell gets busted for bad behavior, I hope his community service is participation in Coastal Cleanup Day for life.

The Brits are always giving us trash: Gordon Ramsay, The Osbournes, the Spice Girls, Jason Statham, soccer (just kidding on that one, sort of).  Now they’re trashing our beaches.  Wasn’t British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill bad enough?