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 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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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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Back-to-Back Jacks

"Modern Family" and MLB hit it out of the park Wednesday night.

Last night, I enjoyed an amazing half hour of TV after our Rosh Hashanah dinner. Yes, I’ll have something else to atone for a week from Saturday, but it was worth it.

Watching Red Sox Nation and the tomahawk-chopping, unPC  Braves complete some of the most epic tank jobs in baseball history within minutes of each other was almost more joy than I could stand. The fact that the longshot Rays came back from a 7-0 deficit to win in extras (including a two-out bomb in the ninth to tie the Yanks) made the night’s drama even more incredible.

But the greatest serendipity of the night came after my wife and daughter kicked me off ESPN to feed their addiction to “Modern Family.” As usual, the writers embedded parallel and goofy plotlines in the 22-minute episode. The rewarding twist came when the starving couple of Cam and Mitchell went to a fundraiser at the Malibu beach house of Mitchell’s boss.

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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