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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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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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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Nature’s Prescription

Thar she blows! Blues are teeming in South Bay now.

Despite my therapeutic summer vacation in Alaska, I have been feeling extremely bitter because of recent environmental events, with little faith in humanity’s ability to preserve nature and protect public health.  The American Chemistry Council’s successful multimillion-dollar campaigns to safeguard the rights of infants to ingest the potential carcinogen BPA and marine life’s right to swallow or become entangled in plastic bags would make any environmentalist angry.  Throw in LADWP’s legislative shenanigans to sidestep California’s once-through- cooling power plant policy and the city council and anyone can see why I’ve been feeling a bit cynical.

 Then came last Sunday. The Blues helped beat away the blues.

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Crisis Averted

The DWP came to its senses on AB 1552.

Last week the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power gutted and amended a pending state bill (AB 1552) and inserted new language that would have significantly eased newly established rules for how power plants suck in ocean water to cool themselves.  DWP leaders went on the offensive against these regulations, even though an existing city policy on Once Through Cooling legislation doesn’t exist. They moved forward without a city council vote on the proposed legislation. (And in an interesting bit of timing, lawmakers introduced the measure just as the L.A. City Council commenced its two-week summer break.) 

Instead of trusting public process, which considered both economics and grid reliability, the DWP crafted AB 1552 as a cynical exemption that applied only to itself. If the bill became law, DWP would have been able to skirt the intent of the new policy by receiving severely weakened flow reduction targets for its OTC plants in comparison with similar facilities statewide.  The utility even had the nerve to write in a new definition of technical feasibility that is completely inconsistent with the federal Clean Water Act and last year’s Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

Fortunately, the DWP came to its senses late this week and dropped the offensive gut-and-amend legislation, thereby averting a horrible precedent at the state legislature. Even before the clandestine backroom shenanigans began in Sacramento, DWP initiated discussions with the State Water Board last week. Discussions on the DWP compliance plan strategy were promising enough this week to lead the utility to shelve the bill.

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Into the Wild

Alaska's Exit Glacier Trail: a scenic hike thousands of miles from L.A. both literally and figuratively

Sorry about the blog blackout, but I just got back from a family vacation to Alaska. My first trip to the land of Denali, fjords and tundra didn’t disappoint. I’ve dreamed of going to Alaska since my fifth-grade report on Seward’s Folly.

I went on my first cruise (as painful as I thought, but we saw incredible wildlife and glaciers) and visited Glacier Bay National Park. The naturalist on board struggled to provide a reason for glacial recession. I guess climate change hasn’t quite infiltrated the cruise ship spiel the same way as Bingo Night and Oktoberfest promotions.

On the cruise excursions to Ketchikan (site of the proposed bridge to nowhere!), Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay and College Fjord we saw grizzlies eating coho and black bear gobbling sockeye at salmon runs, numerous bald eagles, Steller’s sea lions and sea nettles (kayaking). We also witnessed a dozen humpback whales, including six feasting on salmon at a current convergence.

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Red Card For Paul, Please

The world's new most-famous octopusWe at Heal the Bay hate Paul the octopus. That may seem strange to hear from a group dedicated to the protection of marine life.

The English import, Octopus vulgaris, made his spot-on World Cup picks in a German aquarium. His prognostication prowess demonstrated that either: a) maybe the subtlety and majesty of the so-called beautiful game isn’t that tough to master; or b) Paul knows a helluva lot more about soccer than any announcer on ESPN.

Why do we dislike the German-based cephalopod? Is it because the mollusk never picked a soccer match loser (8 for 8, a 1-in-256 probability)?  Hardly, even though I had Holland in the office World Cup pool.

No, Heal the Bay hates Paul because now he is the most famous octopus on earth.

Our own Flo, the eight-legged vandal that flooded the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, is yesterday’s news, last year’s “in” invertebrate. He’s just another octopus with a mere 15 minutes of fame, like my brother’s latest misguided Korean seafood-eating adventure, or the Detroit ice after a Red Wings’ goal.

Paul’s owners, like the octomom and her kids, are trying to cash in on the oracle’s celebrity. Now comes word that a town in Spain (which won the soccer tournament) even offered to buy Paul to help promote a local festival. There’s nothing worse than a sell-out cephalopod.

Just remember Paul: Fame, like the life of an octopus, is fleeting.

Day and Night

EPA chief Lisa Jackson tests water in Compton Creek.

Wednesday was a rewarding whirlwind: An extraordinary afternoon in the Compton Creek, a stimulating evening roundtable at the Skirball, and an after-hours meal in Venice. 

A few weeks ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reached out to Heal the Bay to let us know that chief Lisa Jackson would be visiting the L.A. area and that she wanted to visit Compton Creek.

Heal the Bay contacted Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to set up a tour for Jackson at Compton Creek. The agreed-upon plan was to announce the long-anticipated purchase of the four-acre soft-bottomed section of Compton Creek and a request to Jackson for federal assistance to develop a flood-control improvement plan based on a low-impact development approach rather than raising the walls on the river.

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Fish Fight

Jonathan Gold's diet would put a mako's to shame.

My brother Jonathan Gold, the food writer, will moderate a panel Wednesday night on sustainable seafood at the Skirball Center.  Zocalo is putting on the free event.  The other panelists will be renowned seafood chef Michael Cimarusti, from Providence, and Logan Kock, the chief buyer and seafood encyclopedia from Santa Monica Seafood.  Michael and Logan are two of the most knowledgeable people in the field of sustainable seafood, and definitely a heck of a lot more informed on the issues than the Gold Brothers.  But my focus will be on the moderator.

This will be our first public dust-up on seafood issues since our whale wars over a year ago.  Jonathan has the advantage.  This is definitely a foodie audience and, as moderator, he has control of the mike.  I still have a fighter’s chance because the topic is sustainable seafood and Jonathan may not have been in an ocean since his high school days.

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Emergency Urgency

EPA chief Lisa Jackson should be leading the cleanup effort.

The Gulf oil crisis continues to grow with no end in sight. The numbers are staggering:  more than 1,000 dead birds, another 300 or so dead sea turtles, more than 85,000 square miles of Gulf closed to fishing, 150 miles of coast and wetland soiled with oil, 40 million to 80 million gallons of oil wreaking havoc on the Gulf ecosystem and well over $5 billion in liability for BP and the gang. Inexplicably, blame for the ongoing blowout has stuck to President Obama like crude on a pelican’s wings. It isn’t fair, but the consequence is still potentially devastating.

A few words of advice for the administration from a member of the environmental peanut gallery:

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