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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Stop the Presses! Government Works!

L.A. City Council's prudent decision to raise sewer fees will let crews replace deteriorating infrastructure.

The Los Angeles City Council today took the bold step of supporting unanimously a substantial sewage service fee increase. The household fee will incrementally increase from an average of $29 a month to $53 a month over the next 10 years. The hike will generate an additional $1.8 billion over the next decade to pay for much-needed sewer and sewage treatment plant maintenance, repairs and replacement.

 I’ve been going to council meetings for over 25 years and this was the most sophisticated and intelligent council discussion on wastewater that I’ve ever seen. The lack of public opposition to the rate increase underscores the Bureau of Sanitation’s effectiveness in educating the public. Even the Chamber of Commerce strongly supported the measure.

The end result? Multiple wins – for public health, for the environment, for long-term, sustainable green jobs.  It also marks a step in the restoration of my faith in the public process.

If the L.A. City Council can unanimously approve a major sewer service rate increase during an ongoing recession, then there is hope for government elsewhere to provide leadership on other environmental and green jobs issues. Today, L.A. understood that sewage infrastructure may be out of sight, but it can never be out of mind.

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Shark Fin for All

Shark fin dumplings: not a "luxury" item

On Sunday morning, our family schlepped out to Rosemead for my niece’s 17th birthday. The destination for Isabel’s festivities was Sea Harbor, one of my brother Jonathan’s favorite dim sum places in the county. After all of these decades of grubbing with Jonathan, I generally don’t even bother looking at a menu or making an order. However, since it was a seafood palace AND the big vote on AB 376 is scheduled for today or Wednesday, I decided to see what shark fin soup went for on the menu.

Much to my dismay, not only did I see three different kinds of shark fin dumplings on the menu, but now the taste of extinction is affordable for all. The myth of shark fin’s availability for weddings and banquets is just that. In today’s society where shark fin dumplings have become a staple at dim sum, everyone can indulge in the consumption of the ocean’s apex predators.  Continue reading

Brother in Arms

Jonathan Gold: maddening but brilliant

For the last three months, I’ve been yearning to blog or write an op-ed on AB 376, the state bill that would ban the sale of shark fins in California. I haven’t been more excited about a marine conservation bill in nearly a decade.  But to be honest, having an environmental biologist like me write about shark conservation wouldn’t add much momentum to get the bill passed.

After all, nearly every major environmental and animal rights group in the nation strongly supports the bill.  Many of these groups persuaded globally known actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones to advocate for the bill via Twitter and op-eds. Even the Monterey Bay Aquarium, generally neutral on environmental bills, decided to sponsor the bill and hire well-respected lobbyists to fight for shark conservation.

The one person I know that could really make a difference in the fight to enact the shark fin ban is my brother, Jonathan.  After all, there is no food writer more highly respected nationally than Jonathan.  He’s the only food writer to earn a Pulitzer and he’s received seven James Beard Awards, the food industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Also, Jonathan’s writing delves into both the worlds of food and modern culture.  His writing on Chinese food is particularly distinct and well respected, as nearly every significant Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley has a copy of one of his reviews plastered on a window or framed in the lobby.

Unlike my brother, I’ve never consumed shark fin soup.  In fact, I remember threatening his physical harm at a Monterey Park Cantonese seafood palace that actually had a cart featuring the item for $30 a bowl back in the1990s.  Jonathan eagerly called the cart driver to our table just to get a rise out of me.  He thought it was hilarious.  I wasn’t laughing.

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Mapping an Uncertain Future

Environmental champion Fran Pavley got screwed in legislative redistricting.

With the world focused on the silly brinksmanship in Congress over the national debt ceiling, there hasn’t been enough focus on the ramifications of the recent California legislative redistricting process.  The final maps, created by an independent body called the California Citizens Redistricting Committee, just came out last week and the new districts are substantially different.  For the L.A. County coast, the changes are pretty dramatic.

Overall, our local coast didn’t do that well during redistricting.  Separating the ports in different congressional and senate districts is not good for San Pedro Bay and misses the opportunity to integrate environmental protection and cleanup efforts among the ports, and L.A. and Long Beach. The new state senate districts separate some of the strongest supporters of Santa Monica Mountains conservation from the actual resource.  That makes it tougher for Westside residents to help out on those issues.

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Long Beach Fights Back

Long Beach bears the brunt of plastic pollution from the L.A. River. Its new ban on plastic bags may help.

The movement to ban plastic bags in California scored a major victory when the Long Beach City Council voted 5-0 last night to support a disposable bag ban based on the Los Angeles County bag ordinance. Heal the Bay boardmember Suja Lowenthal spearheaded the City Council effort to ban single use plastic  bags, but Dee Andrews’ support for the ordinance was key. (Five votes were needed as there were four absences). 

Large retailers are required to stop giving out single use plastic bags by August, with smaller retailer requirements kicking in for January. Like the county’s ordinance, retailers are allowed to sell “green” paper bags for a dime as an alternative. But the message from Long Beach remains strong:  Use reusable bags instead of single use bags.

Long Beach has a lot to gain from the bag ban because the city sits at the bottom of the heavily urbanized, over 1500-square mile L.A. and San Gabriel River watersheds. As a result, Long Beach beaches bear the brunt of our society’s irresponsible waste disposal behavior.

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Contamination is Forever

In the field of water quality regulation, sewage treatment plant and industrial dischargers often have strict numeric limits on the amount of pollutants they can discharge.  In some cases, for highly toxic pollutants like organochlorines and mercury, the limits can be at the parts per billion or even per trillion level.

As a result of the Federal Clean Water Act and the California Porter Cologne Act requirements, most individual sources of pollutants have decreased their toxics discharge by an order of magnitude or more over the last 30 years.

On the opposite side of the regulatory continuum are contaminated sediments.

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Suing Over Septics

spetic-rincon

Despite years of public outcry at Rincon and other locales, the State Water Board has been slow to adopt mandated regulations on septic systems

Enough is enough.  Although Heal the Bay generally only uses litigation as a last resort, we do have our limits.  On Tuesday, Santa Barbara environmental group Heal the Oceans and Heal the Bay filed a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board for its failure to implement Assembly Bill 885, which required the Board to develop regulations for on-site wastewater treatment systems. AB 885 was authored by former assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson in 1999 and Gov. Davis signed it into law in 2000. The bill required the Board to develop regulations for the siting, permitting and operation of on-site wastewater treatment systems, or OWTS, by 2004.

The regulations took aim at septic systems, which pose a serious threat to water quality at several famous beaches up and down the coast.  After seven years of patience and a decade of regulatory negotiations with the state, county health agencies, OWTS experts and local government representatives, the environmental groups involved felt that they had no choice but to sue the state to ensure that the law would be implemented. Coast Law Group filed the suit on behalf of the organizations.

Both groups were instrumental in the passage of the law as bill sponsors.  In the 1990s, while Hillary Hauser and Heal the Oceans led efforts to clean up chronically polluted Rincon, Heal the Bay pushed for cleanup at the even more polluted Surfrider Beach.  Both groups noted scientific studies that found human pathogens in the adjacent coastal lagoons — strong evidence that nearby septic systems were causing or contributing to chronic water quality problems that posed health risks to the surfing community.

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Don’t Forget Water, Jerry

Life imitates art at the L.A. Regional Water Board

Dear Governor Brown:

I understand you are facing California’s budget crisis head on and I agree with your priority setting for the state: digging us out of the budget crisis is priority one through 100. However, on behalf of all of those that care about clean water in the Los Angeles region, we need your help. Making appointments to boards that don’t necessarily share your views on environmental protection is a high priority. Each month that goes by without your appointments could lead to a series of bad decisions.

For example, the Los Angeles Regional Water Board met on Thursday and one of its first orders of business was the approval of a new board chair. Typically, this is a pro-forma decision. The vice chair gets appointed to the chair leadership. Unfortunately, a Coastal Commission hearing broke out at the Simi Valley meeting with politics getting in the way of traditional policy. Every year for the last 10 years, the vice chair has become the chair. Until Thursday.

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