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.

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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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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?

Saving For a Rainy Day

New guidelines issued this week by L.A. County will lead to increased use of rainwater barrels.

L.A. County’s Department of Public Health has just released rainwater harvesting guidelines that  help transform the region’s management of stormwater runoff.  The guidelines apply to rainwater harvesting projects, including rain barrels and cisterns, and they significantly shift the approach from treating rainwater as a pollution source and flood control problem to managing it as a critical resource.

The guidelines were released at the site of a massive Proposition O project at Penmar Park in Venice.  A giant pit and a huge dirt mound served as the backdrop Tuesday for the modest press event (the Conrad Murray verdict occurred an hour earlier).  The Penmar Park project will capture runoff from the watershed from south-east Sunset Park in Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Airport and the Rose Avenue neighborhood near Walgrove Avenue.  The cistern will store approximately 1 million gallons of runoff, which will then be disinfected and used for irrigation at the Penmar golf course and park.

The rainwater harvesting guidelines were negotiated over a two-year period with the City of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the environmental community, led by Heal the Bay and Treepeople.  They provide clarity and certainty to project developers on how to move forward with projects that capture and reuse rainwater.  L.A. County Public Health, especially Angelo Bellomo and Kenneth Murray, earn major props for moving the guidelines forward.

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