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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Healing San Pedro Bay

Some of the new regulations designed to clean up San Pedro Bay are more fork than spoon unfortunately.

Santa Monica Bay pollution may make the headlines, but the pollution in San Pedro Bay is a lot worse.  Last week the Regional Water Quality Control Board made an attempt to heal our other local bay by passing the most comprehensive and complicated Total Maximum Daily Load in California history.  (TMDLs are water body-specific pollutant limits.) The TMDL covered 79 different impairments of  Dominguez Channel and the Greater Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbor (San Pedro Bay) waters and contaminants, including heavy metals like mercury, lead and copper, DDT, PCBs, toxicity and petroleum hydrocarbons.

The bottom line is that there are now five species of fish in the Bay that the state recommends you avoid eating and another 11 that you shouldn’t eat more than once a week.  Also, there are numerous toxic hotpots and the benthic ecology (bottom-dwelling animals) at some of those locations is highly degraded.

Although this TMDL was one of the most important in the entire Consent Decree between the environmental community and the EPA, it was delayed until 2011 because of its complexity and the number of industrial heavy hitters that are regulated by the action, including such players as the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, numerous oil companies, the Montrose Chemical Co. (the folks who brought us DDT), and numerous upstream cities with intense industrial use. Perhaps the biggest reason for the lateness of the TMDL was the complex and time-consuming modeling (five years in the making) of San Pedro Bay and the Dominguez Channel required to develop the regulation.

The Regional Board voted 5-0 to approve the staff recommended TMDL over strong opposition from Montrose and the Coalition for Practical Regulation cities. Montrose and the CPR cities opposed the TMDL because of cost concerns, and they actually claimed that they shouldn’t have to pay for the Dominguez Channel and San Pedro Bay cleanup because they already had to pay millions of dollars under the Superfund and Natural Resources damages lawsuit in the 1990s. In other words, “Let the locals eat toxic fish!”

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A Reel Opportunity

Fish consumption warnings have greatly expanded in Los Angeles, from Seal Beach to Santa Monica

Earlier in the week, Frankie Orrala and James Alamillo gave a staff presentation in our office on the progress of the Pier Angler Outreach Program coordinated by Heal the Bay, EPA and the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative (FCEC).  Frankie and James have run Heal the Bay’s program for eight years.  Their achievements, along with the efforts of the outreach workers, have been nothing short of astounding.

To date, the program has educated nearly 100,000 anglers at eight different piers: Santa Monica, Venice, Hermosa, Redondo, Pier J, Rainbow Harbor, Belmont and Seal Beach piers. (Cabrillo Marine Aquarium educates Cabrillo Pier anglers).  The risk communication efforts focus on the health risks of eating locally caught DDT-, PCB- and mercury-contaminated fish.  The outreach workers encourage anglers to avoid the most compromised fish, and they provide fishermen with cooking methods if they choose to eat any contaminated catch.

Risk communication has occurred in multiple languages, including Tagolog, English, Chinese, Hmong and Spanish. Here is a rough ethnic breakdown of anglers that have been educated:

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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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Memo to Antonio … continued

It's time to treat L.A.'s rivers as habitat rather than flood control channels. Photo: lacreekfreak.org

Yesterday,  I outlined  my top three green initiatives that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should tackle in the remainder of his second term. Here’s a look at some other environmental issues that he should make a priority:

Fast-track city approval of a Stream Protection Ordinance in 2010. The Department of Public Works has spent three and a half years working on a stream protection ordinance.  Based on Watershed Protection Division analysis, there are approximately 462 miles of riparian habitat that would receive some level of protection under the draft ordinance.  Council districts 11 (Rosendahl), 2 (Krekorian), and 12 (Smith) all have over 60 miles of habitat, while 11 out of 15 districts have at least 12 miles of habitat.  The ordinance would protect the city’s remaining stream habitat by requiring development buffer zones of 100 feet for soft-bottomed habitat and 30 feet for concrete-lined channels. We need to start treating streams like habitat rather than flood control channels. Unfortunately, the ordinance has been frozen in the mayor’s office for over two years. If the mayor says he wants to protect L.A.’s streams, the ordinance would likely sail through City Council.  Unfortunately, the ordinance is not on the mayor’s radar.

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Memo to Antonio

Mayor Villaraigosa can accomplish three major green goals if he stays focused in 2010.

Last year marked a difficult time in Los Angeles and 2010 promises to pose even greater challenges due to an unprecedented fiscal crisis.  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s promise to make L.A. the cleanest, greenest major city in America has a long way to go, but I really believe that the Mayor’s powers of persuasion and expert use of the bully pulpit can lead to tangible environmental improvements by the end of his second term.  Without the mayor’s leadership, major policies and projects often fall into a state of suspended animation. The Los Angeles Times today published a piece about the mayor narrowing his focus at the beginning of his second term to ensure greater follow through on promises. When Villaraigosa sets his mind to a specific issue, it’s amazing how quickly things can move, e.g. renewable portfolio standards, support for Measure R, the green port program and the promise to get off coal by 2020. However, a great deal more needs to be done to meet his lofty green city goals.

Here’s my take on the three biggest green initiatives that Mayor Villaraigosa should resolve to achieve in the remainder of his term:

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Chaos at Cabrillo

Foot-dragging by the Port to clean up Cabrillo Beach could significantly cost the city next spring.

Foot-dragging by the Port to clean up Cabrillo Beach could significantly cost the city next spring.

Inner Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro ends up getting Ds or Fs on Heal the Bay’s Annual Beach Report Card year after year.  Sometimes the beach even ends up on our Beach Bummer list, which ranks the 10 most polluted beaches in all of California. 

Over $10 million has been spent over the years on a wide variety of studies and projects to improve the situation.  Workers found and removed old sewer lines.  They plugged an old, abandoned  stormdrain.  Recently, the entire beach was replaced with new sand and reconfigured. A pump device designed to provide water circulation at the bath-tub like beach has been tested.  This month, a rock jetty will be removed in the hopes that it will enhance water circulation.  About eight years ago, the workers installed a series of bird excluder devices, and the Port of L.A. this fall will install new devices (picture fishing line strewn on top of a matrix of poles).

Despite all time, money and effort, Cabrillo continues to get Fs on the Report Card.  And this spring, the Port’s inability to clean up the beach moves from a public health issue to a Clean Water Act compliance issue.

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