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Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Matt King

After 11 years at Heal the Bay, Communications Director Matthew King is hanging up his keyboard. Before he heads off for a career sabbatical, he offers a series of posts about his favorite colleagues and lessons learned.

Readers, thanks for putting up with this extended farewell. (I feel like Cher or Elton John a bit.)  As I hand the baton to my capable colleague Talia Walsh, I want to recognize that none of our Comm success over the past decade could have happened without the eloquence and competence of our colleagues here. My job is just to set up interviews, create talking points, edit blog posts and help draft Op-Eds and then get out of the way. I’ve been very fortunate to work with so many outstanding scientists and advocates over the years.

I owe a special debt to Heal the Bay’s first executive director, Mark Gold, who hired me to rethink HTB’s Comm strategy. I think we both learned a lot from each other. Now an associate vice chancellor at UCLA, Mark is one of L.A.’s pre-eminent environmental thought-leaders, as well as an inveterate Dodger fan, like me. (In photo below, he’s wearing the cap, next to one of his heroes, star pitcher Fernando Valenzeula, before a Heal the Bay cleanup. I don’t think I ever saw him more happy at work!) His gallows humor and unfailing candor are welcome relief in a field marked too often by wishful thinking and feel-good platitudes.

My job was made infinitely easier by the endeavors of two former science-and-policy directors, Sarah Sikich and Kirsten James. I lovingly dubbed the fresh-faced, blonde duo “The Bobbsey Twins” for their earnest dedication. But this powerful team formed a formidable one-two punch in my early years, scoring victories for Marine Protected Areas and bans on single-use plastics. These two Midwesterners embody Heal the Bay’s core values: integrity, loyalty and a willingness to work hard. I am so happy that our current president Shelley Luce embodies these strengths as well. We are in good hands.

Last but not least is Meredith McCarthy, our current Operations Director and longtime Mama Bear of the organization. As Programs Manager, Meredith worked on dozens of campaigns and events with me – instilling me with pride, conviction, confidence and a can-do spirit even when my spirits flagged. She’s a mensch, a Bodhisattva and the best “work wife” I guy could ever have.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to represent Heal the Bay’s good work to the media and general public. I hope my work has helped inspire people to become better stewards of the ocean and our inland waterways. I trust that by shining a light, I’ve helped reduce pollution in the Bay and swimming-related illnesses. My father served as an L.A. County lifeguard for 30 years. So in my own small way, I feel like I’ve been following in my late father’s footsteps – helping to protect the millions of people who visit our beaches each year.

And one final thought: My wife and I had a trick at home called “One Step Further” to encourage better in-home habits for our growing sons. Yes, it was a small victory to have them take their dirty dish out of their room and to the sink. But we nudged to them to take it one step further, and actually scrape the dish and put it in the dishwasher.

I have a similar wish for all those who support Heal the Bay. Try to take it one step further. If you come to a cleanup and enjoy it, think about becoming a beach captain. If you sign one of our petitions, think about speaking at a city council hearing about the matter. If you make a small (and appreciated) one-time donation, think about becoming a monthly sustaining member. You get the idea. None of our good work happens without YOU.

I’ll see you on the beach. Maybe in Montevideo …

 

 



After 11 years at Heal the Bay, Communications Director Matthew King is hanging up his keyboard. Before he heads off for a career sabbatical, he offers a series of stories about his favorite moments and lessons learned.

Communications Directors have a special role at nonprofits. We work with every department and try hard to give our colleagues the credit they deserve for their hard work. We collaborate with smart people, working across all disciplines of the organization, as well as allies in the community.

During my tenure, I’ve spent time in the field with scientists, teachers, policy advocates, creative directors, fundraisers, organizers, journalists, lawyers, and powerful elected officials. You learn a lot just watching and listening to people who know how to get things done. I’ve had many classroomsfrom tidepools to city-council chambers, from aquariums to production studios. That informal education has been one of the biggest blessings of my job here.

Roaming across greater L.A. with an environmental mindset has also led to some memorable encounters and surprising discoveries. Here are three of my favorite moments:

Swimming with a White Shark

I’ve edited dozens of blog and social media posts about the need to protect apex predators in our waters. But my close encounter with a juvenile white shark while surfing in El Porto made the issue deeply personal.  You can read more about it here.

Discovering a Human Skull at a Cleanup

I’ve become blasé about what we find at cleanups after all these years of seeing the same types of trash over and over. Ho hum, another pound of cigarette butts in the sand. (Yuck!) But one find at a Coastal Cleanup Day site stopped me dead in my tracks – divers discovering what looked like a human skull underneath the Redondo Beach Pier. Police shut down the site and went full-on “CSI.” You can read more about the surprise ending to this story here.

Finding Hope in the Back of a Nissan

Teachers are among the most underappreciated members of society. (Honoring first responders and soldiers is great, but why don’t they celebrate outstanding teachers before ball games as well?) Patty Jimenez is one such hero, who goes the extra mile to motivate her students in the underserved community of Bell Gardens. I invited Patty and a few of her students to share their compelling story about getting cigarettes banned in city parks on KTLA Morning News. They hustled out to Playa del Rey, battling morning traffic in the predawn darkness to appear on the show before returning back for the start of school. During a break in filming, I watched these inspirational kids do something that will stick with me forever. Read their story here.


As a former reporter and editor, I know how hard it is to be a journalist. Low pay and long hours are to be expected. Most media outlets find their budgets shrinking as fast as the attention spans of readers. That makes it harder to get environmental stories into print or on air. Still, some thoughtful reporters are doing good work. Here are three journalists who made my job fun.

Louis Sahagun, L.A. Times environmental reporter

Louis is an OG LA Times vet, slightly rumpled, slightly curmudgeonly,  but with a heart-of-gold. He’s been around the block a few times. He’s the type of guy you want to have a few beers with in a divey San Pedro bar. He’s had to weather a lot of turmoil with management changes at the L.A. Times, but he perseveres. He’s the master of the anecdotal lede, expert at painting nature with spare but evocative prose. I took Louis out on a boat for my first big story here, a feature piece on the tension over creating Marine Protected Areas off the SoCal coast. You can read one of his stories about Heal the Bay’s campaign against invasive crayfish here.

Huell Howser, the late KCET video-journalist

No one did what Huell did, exploring the backroads of California and visiting everyday folk. With his “aw-shucks” demeanor and courtly Southern manners, Huell could make a trip to an insurance office seem interesting. So I was elated when I convinced him to do a segment on our fight against single-use plastic bags. My then-colleague Kirsten James and I had a small bet whether I could get him to say in that cornpone drawl of his: “Noooooo, Kirsten! NINE BILL-YUN plastic bags??!!” You can read more about our day together here.

Gayle Anderson, reporter for KTLA Morning News

Gayle has mastered goofy shtick to make herself one of the most famous news personalities in L.A. But don’t let that madcap on-air persona fool you. As a former crime reporter in Miami, she’s whip smart and extremely well read. She’s dead serious about her job and is totally demanding of her sources when putting together a segment. She used to strike the fear of God in me, but then I discovered what a pussycat she really is. You can watch some of her segments here focusing on our efforts to increase diversity on the beach.

Final installment here: Recognizing some outstanding people

 



After 11 years at Heal the Bay, Communications Director Matthew King is hanging up his keyboard. Before he heads off for a career sabbatical, he’ll offer a series of posts this week about his favorite moments and lessons learned.

Being the Communications Director for Heal the Bay is one of the easiest jobs in L.A. Our little nonprofit has brand-recognition and favorability ratings that would be the envy of any Fortune 500 company. We don’t have to spam people. Angelenos want to hear from our scientists and educators. I’ve tried to keep it pretty simple. People love the beach. Heal the Bay protects the beach. Therefore, if you love the beach, you should love Heal the Bay. It’s like that theorem in Geometry – A=B, B=C, so A=C.

Dorothy Green, Heal the Bay’s inspirational founding president, also kept things simple. She was a master communicator, who rightly noted: “Educating the populace is critically important. If politicians are going to lead, they need to already have an army of people in front of them in order to lead it.”

She shrewdly engaged media and local ad agencies to help spread the word in Heal the Bay’s first fight  in 1985 — stopping the Hyperion Plant from dumping partially treated sewage into the Bay. I’ve followed that blueprint during my tenure, helping secure some important victories. I’ve come to realize that as dysfunctional as government can be, it’s the key variable in a winning formula for healing the Bay. Cleanups are great, but it’s the heavy arm of the law that’s going to result in meaningful change – be it bans on single-use plastics, stiff fines for chronic polluters or injunctions against offshore drilling. My job has simply been to help recruit and mobilize the army that Dorothy envisioned.

So without further ado, here are my three favorite campaigns that I worked on here.

Statewide Plastic Bag Ban

As we successfully fought for the statewide ban in 2016, I constantly got asked: “Don’t we have bigger things to worry about than plastic bags?” The short answer is “Yes.” But these urban tumbleweeds are a powerful symbol of our throwaway culture. Getting people to give up the “convenience” of plastic bags can act as a gateway drug, where they feel good about other new habits — be it eating less meat or taking public transit. With nearly 2 million YouTube views, our tongue-in-cheek, BBC-style nature mockumentary “The Majestic Plastic Bag” made people laugh and think. The Jeremy Irons-narrated film even made the rounds in the legislative offices in Sacramento, as well as running in official competition at Sundance Film Festival. I still get dozens of requests each year for permission to play the film in festivals and school districts around the world. Many marketers talk a big game about their campaign going viral only to see it fizzle. But it’s the greatest rush when your work actually does.

Measure O – Fighting Oil Drilling in the Bay

When I first heard about the prospect of Hermosa Beach allowing an energy company to drill underneath the ocean floor there, I thought it must be some kind of mistake. But a regulatory loophole and an odd legal settlement basically opened up a narrow window for voters to decide in 2015 if they would allow limited drilling in exchange for millions of dollars in “community benefits.” Knowing how trusted Heal the Bay is in the South Bay, some local business owners raised some funds for our organization and Surfrider Foundation to create a public awareness campaign to defeat the measure. We were outspent 10-to-1 by Big Oil but our community coalition – led adeptly by Keep Hermosa Hermosa and my former colleague Jose Bacallao – prevailed. We had a lot of fun with the creative campaign, which focused on the idea that “Big Oil is Slick. Don’t Trust It.” My former Comm colleague Nick Colin came up with a disruptive idea – the Spillage People, a singing/dancing crew of our staffers dressed in HazMat suits drenched in oil. Riffing off the Village People hit “YMCA,” these merry band of pranksters would flash-mob around town and sing an anti-drilling ditty to hoots and hollers. Simply brilliant.

Measure W – Stormwater Capture

For the general public, thinking about water infrastructure is as exciting as talking about retirement planning. But last fall, we were handed a rare chance to start replacing our outdated water thinking/infrastructure with L.A. County’s Measure W. The initiative called for property owners to tax themselves to the tune of $200 million a year to start building a lattice of stormwater parks throughout L.A. that will capture and reuse stormwater and other runoff instead of sending it uselessly to the sea.  It was a VERY heavy lift. Who wants more taxes? And who in the general public really thinks or cares that much about where their water comes from? All the polling suggested the measure was truly a 50-50 tossup. It could go either way. But this one measure marked the single biggest action to decrease pollution in the Bay in the past decade. Thankfully,  president Shelley Luce committed the funds to come up with a creative campaign to try to win hearts and minds in the last few days leading up to the election. My longtime volunteer creative partner – Kevin McCarthy, an avid surfer and recovering ad exec – came up with the idea to turn the L.A. River into a canvass in support of Measure W. Heal the Bay and LA Waterkeeper snuck a crew onto the banks before sunrise and spelled out SAVE THE RAIN, SAVE L.A. in enormous chunks of sod along its cement channels. Green graffiti on concrete banks — the medium was the message! Local news trucks broadcast our stunt live and social influencers from Julia Louis Dreyfus to Zooey Deschanel shared our video far and wide. We can’t take all the credit, but I’m sure our stunt drove support for the measure, which squeaked by with the tiniest of margins.

 

Next: Three of my favorite “small moments” at HTB

 



SINGLE-USE PLASTIC

It’s estimated that there will be more plastic by mass than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

What we’re doing: Advocating for a ban on polystyrene food and drink containers in the City and County of Los Angeles. Following the model that propelled the statewide plastic bag ban in 2014, we are fighting to rid our beaches and neighborhoods of polystyrene trash. Our volunteers have removed more than 500,000 bits of Styrofoam from beaches in L.A. County over the past decade!

What you can do: Encourage your favorite restaurants to go plastic-free voluntarily

CLIMATE CHANGE

L.A. County could lose more than half of its beaches by 2100 due to coastal erosion related to warming seas.

What we’re doing: Reducing our carbon footprint is a complicated endeavor involving multi-national agreements, but we’re committed to taking action locally. Our staff scientists are advocating for the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands and other natural buffers to climate change.  Our policy staff is advocating for infrastructure projects that capture and reuse treated wastewater, instead of piping water from up North at tremendous cost and energy use.

What you can do: If you own a car, take public transit once a week. If you aren’t a vegetarian, skip meat one day a week.

Credit: (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

POLLUTED WATER

There are roughly 175 impaired water bodies and 1,317 specific impairments* in greater L.A., meaning they exceed federal clean-water standards and require formal remediation plans.

What we’re doing: Heal the Bay holds polluters accountable by ensuring that cities adhere to their stormwater permits. These MS4 permits**, which will be renewed this year, allow dischargers to send runoff into the L.A. County stormdrain system as long as effluents do not exceed acceptable levels of metals, oils, harmful bacteria and trash. It’s a bit wonky, but watchdogging these permits is essential for maintaining safe and healthy water in our region.

What you can do: Pick up your pet waste … always. Patronize car washes that capture runoff. Reduce chemicals from reaching the sea by reducing your use of pesticides and fertilizers.


*A specific pollutant in a waterbody, measured at levels that exceed federal Water Quality Standards. Many waterbodies in the L.A. Region are impaired by multiple pollutants.

**Permits issued by the Water Quality Control Board that monitor and regulate pollution in stormwater runoff. 



Taking L.A. By Storm

We helped lead the charge to pass Measure W in the November election, securing funds for a lattice of stormwater-capture parks throughout L.A. County. Instead of flowing uselessly to pollute the sea, 100 billion gallons of runoff will be captured and reused each year.

California Doesn’t Suck

On the heels of our “Strawless Summer” campaign, Gov. Brown signed into law a measure that requires restaurants to provide straws on a request-only basis. The move will keep tons of plastic out of our beleaguered oceans and beaches.

A River Runs Through It

In response to our ground-breaking study of polluted spots in the L.A. River’s recreational zones, the City of Los Angeles established a new monitoring and notification protocol to protect public health on the revitalized waterway.

A Clean Break for Malibu

After years of steady pressure from Heal the Bay, the city of Malibu opened its Civic Wastewater Treatment Facility. Some of the state’s most iconic — and historically polluted — beaches will be a whole lot cleaner.

Youth Is Served

Our entire staff hosted 600 students from under-served elementary schools for our annual Education Day, a care-free morning of marine exploration at our Aquarium and on the sand.  Each year we inspire more than 15,000 students, many of whom have never been to the beach!



Thanks to NowCast, today is a good day for surfers who paddle out in Southern California’s prime wintertime waves and want to stay healthy.

For the first time, Heal the Bay staff scientists are running our NowCast water-quality predictions from December through March for a select few surf breaks.

NowCast predictions are the best water quality information available for beaches in California. They are made using machine-learning models, based on the most recent environmental conditions, and publicly available every single morning. By checking NowCast predictions before they go out, ocean users can reduce their risk of getting sick from polluted water.

NowCast predictions are now available each day by 7 a.m. for these very popular surf breaks:

  • Venice Breakwater
  • Manhattan Beach (near 28th Street)
  • Redondo Breakwater
  • Huntington Beach (near Beach Boulevard)
  • Santa Ana River Jetties

We want people to catch a wave, not the stomach flu. You can find NowCast predictions on our Beach Report Card website and mobile app.

We have been running NowCast successfully for beaches in the summer months since 2015, predicting water quality before swimmers hit the shore. Last summer, we provided daily forecasts of predicted water quality for 20 beaches.

If you aren’t familiar with our NowCast system, here’s an FAQ about how we are continuing to improve water quality monitoring at California beaches.

What is the NowCast system?

The NowCast system provides information similar to a daily weather forecast, but this tool predicts good or poor water quality for the day at select beaches across California. NowCast predictions are made by statistical computer models that are calibrated on years of environmental and bacteria data to accurately estimate fecal bacteria levels in the surf zone.

Fecal bacteria levels can be affected by many environmental factors such as rainfall, tide levels, solar radiation, wind, and wave action. Water quality can even be affected by human-made factors such a stormdrain flow and the presence of piers or jetties. Because the effects of these factors on water quality varies from beach to beach, site-specific NowCast models are developed for individual beaches.

Predictions are made each morning by running the models using up-to-date environmental information, and are released by 7 a.m. When a model estimates that bacteria levels at a beach comply with the health standards, the NowCast result is shown as “Good”; however, if a model estimates that bacteria levels exceed health standards, the NowCast result is shown as “Poor.”

Why is the NowCast system important?

Currently, local health agencies use laboratory analyses of water samples collected at the beach to determine if it is safe for recreational use. Unfortunately, there is a long delay in this approach: It typically takes 24-48 hours to collect the samples, transport them to the lab, and analyze them. Meanwhile, water quality can change with environmental conditions. Additionally, most California beaches are sampled on a weekly basis (although there are some beaches that are monitored more frequently). As a result, health agencies currently rely on data that is days-old to make health protection decisions.

Predictive models like those used in the NowCast system can quickly and accurately provide daily water quality information based on the most recent environmental conditions at the beach. Local health agencies and organizations like Heal the Bay can then make public notifications of poor water quality in the morning before most people arrive at the beach.

Who created the NowCast system?

The NowCast system was created through a collaboration among Heal the Bay, Stanford University, and UCLA. The project is funded by the State Water Resources Control Board, and is supported by local health agencies throughout California. For more in-depth information on the research that went into creating the NowCast system, click here.

Will there be more NowCast beaches in the future?

Most certainly. This is our first season releasing predictions during the winter season, and our plan is to keep growing our winter system each season to more and more locations. We already release predictions during the summer for 20 California beaches, from Humboldt County to San Diego County.

Are NowCast predictions available during rain events?

No. When it rains in California, water quality typically plummets. As a result, beach managers (which include local health agencies and lifeguards) issue rain advisories. These warnings last at least 72 hours, and may not be removed from the beach until after water quality samples show that conditions have returned to safe levels.

Because rain advisories are the most conservative form of public notification, we do not release NowCast predictions when they are active. For information about water quality and rain advisories (and for another spot to check NowCast predictions), check the Los Angeles and Orange County health agency websites.  

 



Heal the Bay scientist Ryan Searcy explains why you may see people on the shore donating their body to science.

Heal the Bay knows a thing or two about water quality. We’ve provided water-quality tools to millions of California beachgoers, helping them make decisions about which beaches are safe to visit. The most important monitoring methods we have are those that determine the levels of so-called fecal-indicator bacteria, or FIB, at a given beach.

The NowCast system (in its 4th year) and the Beach Report Card (in its 29th year) provide a daily and long-term look, respectively, at FIB at California’s most popular beaches. FIB are linked to the presence of fecal-borne pathogens like Cryptosporidium and norovirus, and high levels of FIB are correlated with illnesses like skin rashes, ear infections, and gastroenteritis. So knowing how much FIB is present at your beach can help you stay healthy.

However, FIB are not always indicative of every human pathogen under the sun. For example, the presence of Staphylococcus aureus is not associated with FIB levels, and you can still catch a nasty staph infection on days where FIB levels are low. Staph gets into the ocean through stormwater runoff discharges from wastewater treatment facilities, and even human shedding at beaches.

A 2012 study of some Southern Californian beaches showed staph was present in 59% of seawater samples. Contracting staph can lead to severe skin and soft tissue infections, sepsis and hospitalization, and even death. And to make things worse, the authors of the study also found strains of staph that are resistant to antibiotic treatment (called methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA) in some of their samples.

If you are sufficiently freaked out by all this, I do have some good news.

Heal the Bay is partnering with a team of UCLA scientists, Surfrider Foundation, and USC Sea Grant to collect data on MRSA and how it affects those who frequent the ocean.

Megyn Rugh, a UCLA Ph.D. student who is leading this project, hopes to determine the ocean’s role in transmitting superbugs to humans.  It has been documented that antibiotic-resistant pathogens are frequently harbored by those who work in the meat processing industry or in hospitals. But Megyn suspects that they are also often present in frequent ocean-users, namely surfers.

Her past work has shown that there is MRSA present in the water at some of the region’s most popular surf spots. By collecting nasal swabs of surfers who paddle out at breaks in the Santa Monica Bay, Megyn hopes to prove that those with high environmental exposure to MRSA are more likely to harbor it in their bodies.

How is Megyn collecting this data, you might wonder? Well, here is a PSA on behalf of the Surfer Resistance Study:

From now through the end of the winter, Megyn and her team will be collecting samples at El Porto in Manhattan Beach every Tuesday and the Breakwater at Venice Beach every Wednesday.

If you’re heading out for dawn patrol, stop by her makeshift beach lab and get your nose swabbed. And if you’re not a surfer, for science’s sake you can still help! Megyn is taking swabs of non-oceangoers’ noses as a control, so stop by when you’re out running or walking your dog. (She’s pictured in the photo at top.)

Heal the Bay has worked hard for many years to prevent MRSA and other superbugs from getting into our coastal waters in the first place.

We know that normal staph in seawater can evolve into MRSA through transfer of antibiotic-resistant genes that come from elevated levels of pharmaceuticals in ocean water. (And you thought Halloween was over.) In 2016, the County of LA failed to enact measures that would hold suppliers of these drugs responsible for taking back unused prescriptions so that they don’t end up in the water.

If UCLA’s study can show that surfers are more likely to get sick from MRSA they contract in the water, advocacy groups like Heal the Bay will have ammunition to get polices in place that improve water quality.

Until then, our advice (as always) is to stay out of the ocean for at least 3 days after a heavy rainfall, and to avoid swimming and surfing near stormdrain outlets.

If you are interested in learning more, or supporting this project with a donation, contact Megyn Rugh at megynrugh@ucla.edu



All political ads and posts are paid for by Heal the Bay and L.A. Waterkeeper.

Environmental groups face two challenges getting attention during election season – limited funds and limited attention spans.

It hasn’t been easy rallying the electorate for Measure W, the countywide initiative to raise $300 million for increased stormwater capture in greater L.A. Voters will decide on the measure on Tuesday.

Building a lattice of nature-based facilities across the Southland could reap billions of gallons of runoff for reuse each year. Engineers think they can harvest enough runoff to meet the water needs of 2.5 million Angelenos. That’s about a quarter of L.A. County’s population.

It’s a critical first step in ditching our outdated Mulholland-era system of water management, in which we import 70% of our water and then send much of it uselessly to the sea each day.

But let’s face it, most voters tune out when you mention the word stormwater. Infrastructure isn’t sexy.

And Heal the Bay can’t compete with industry lobbyists who spend millions to jam airwaves with ads for narrowly focused initiatives. (Is paying for dialysis really the most pressing  issue in California today?)

So what’s an earnest nonprofit to do when it wants to cut through all the clutter?

Get creative.

Heal the Bay has tapped an amazing cadre of talent over the years at L.A.’s leading advertising, marketing, communications and design companies. With hat in hand, we’ve wheedled great work out of great minds. (Did you know that Chiat Day designed our now famous fishbones logo for free?)

Our strategy has been to find the surfers at an agency. It’s not hard to do – why do you think there are so many aspirational commercials these days of bearded hipsters loading their boards into their hybrid cars?

So when tasked by a coalition of L.A.’s leading environmental, labor and social justice groups to raise Measure W’s voice amid the mid-term noise, I turned to my neighbor and Bay Street surf buddy – Kevin McCarthy.

A longtime creative director, Kevin is the force behind such Heal the Bay hits as the “Drains to the Ocean” stencils spray-painted across L.A. sidewalks. He and his team also assembled the Jeremy Irons-narrated mockumentary “The Majestic Plastic Bag,” a viral hit that has been seen 2.5 million times and helped spur the statewide ban on single-use bags.

For Measure W, he assembled a creative coalition-of-the-willing to develop “sticky” public engagements, such as a “Haunted Storm Drain” tour during Halloween festivities at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and a makeshift “parklet” that popped-up on a busy DTLA street during lunchtime.

But he saved his best trick for last: doing some grass-roots marketing along the L.A. River.

Literally.

Last month, Kevin sent me a mock-up of a stunt to use live sod to spell out SAVE THE RAIN, SAVE L.A., VOTE YES ON W along the banks of the L.A. River.

The idea is brilliant in its simplicity and audacity. The L.A. River is the poster child for how we waste water. Each day its concrete channels funnel millions of gallons of usable water into the Pacific.

The River is also the perfect canvas for L.A.’s graffiti crews, whose work gets maximum visibility from car and train traffic that goes by its banks. Instead of spray paint, we’d use Mother Nature to spread the word. With our grass graffiti, we’d embody the very spirit of Measure W – turning concrete into green space. The medium would be the message!

Last week we quietly secured the necessary permits from FilmLA, which cut red-tape among the entities that claim jurisdiction over the River.

The installation took place Monday morning near the intersections of the 110 and 5 freeways. The site afford views for morning commuters over nearby bridges, as well as for Metro and Amtrak train riders.

As dawn broke, our stunt crew drove down a hidden driveway onto the river floor and set up camp. As a landscape designer, my wife Erin had secured beds of sod at a discounted rate. Crack landscape contractor Robert Herrera and his crew measured, cut and placed the grass in stencils laid out by Kevin and a few of our staff.

After two hours of hauling the heavy sod up the steep banks, our tired team stood on the edge of the river to examine our handiwork. Passers-by on the trains waved to us, filling us with satisfaction.

While the stunt paid off in real-time, we knew the real dividends would come with media coverage and social-sharing.

Top-rated KTLA Morning News sent a news crew to cover the installation. Partner L.A. Waterkeeper organized our expert video team – Will Durland, Lindsey Jurca, Ben Dolenc and Tyler Haggstrom. They shot drone footage as well as capturing time-lapse images. An edited package is now being shared with press and social media channels.

I know I’m biased, but the videos are stunning.

We’ll also share powerful video testimonials from some Angelenos whose lives and livelihoods depend on water: celebrity chef Raphael Lunetta, Golden Road Brewing co-founder Meg Gill, and L.A. County Fire Department Capt. Greg Rachal (who moonlights as president of the Black Surfers Assn.)

Lindsey and Will — a professional and domestic couple — assembled these evocative mini-films. Lindsey works for sister org and sometimes competitor Los Angeles Waterkeeper. She twisted Will’s arm to pitch in during a break from his regular professional work (“Survivor”). It’s been fun to collaborate with such passionate and committed creatives.

One post-script: No grass was harmed in the filming of this movie! My wife found a youth center to pick up the sod letters at the end of the day. The grass has a new home and is being put to good use in a recreational area.

After all, plant-life  – like water – is a terrible thing to waste.

Matthew King serves as communications director for Heal the Bay.

Political Disclosure: Heal the Bay and L.A. Waterkeeper paid for all materials and staff time for installation and filming. 

photo credits — top: Will Durland; drone: Tyler Haggstrom

 



This November, voters in L.A. County will decide whether to approve Measure W, a public funding measure to capture, treat and reuse stormwater throughout the region. Through a modest parcel tax, $300 million in funds would be made available for cities to build a lattice of nature-based projects throughout the region, such as green streets, wetlands and parks that capture and store rain and runoff. The measure would increase local water supply, improve water quality, provide more open space and reduce trash along our shorelines.

Here, Heal the Bay and our partners L.A. Waterkeeper and Natural Resources Defense Council address many of the misconceptions that have been raised by opponents of this common-sense measure.

MYTH: It hardly ever rains in Southern California. We don’t need to spend millions to capture a few sprinkles each year.

FACT: We can capture and reuse billions of gallons of stormwater and other runoff each year in L.A. County, enough to meet the needs of 2.5 million Angelenos.

In the decades to come, climate change means that greater L.A. will whipsaw from drought to floods to drought. We must use our wet years to ensure we have enough clean water when the dry ones come. Even on the driest day in August, tens of millions of gallons of runoff flow to the sea each day. During a single storm, up to 10 billion gallons of this liquid gold runs through our stormdrains and into the ocean. We need to capture, clean and reuse water – every drop, every day of the year.

MYTH: We’ve got enough water right now. We’ve got bigger problems to fix.

FACT: We take water for granted – at our own peril. 

With climate change worsening, extended periods of drought in our region are a given. We’ve got to stop importing 70% of our water at great cost and expense of fossil fuels. It’s just not smart. We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to replumb our region and source more water locally. Water is the lifeblood of our city. Let’s not waste it.

MYTH: This sounds like a good idea. But we simply can’t afford it right now.

FACT: The measure will pay dividends for years to come, saving taxpayers money in the long run. The average property owner would pay $83 a year to improve water quality and boost water supply.

With our current system, we are literally pouring water – and money – down the drain each day. This measure will provide a smart return-on-investment in four specific areas:

  • Enhanced public health: Hundreds of thousands of beachgoers each year get sick from swimming in runoff-polluted beaches in L.A. County each year, at a cost of nearly $200 million.
  • Reduced regulatory costs:  L.A. County is on the hook for an estimated $24 billion over the next two decades to meet strict water quality mandates set by the State Water Control Board.
  • Lower water costs: Importing water from up north is expensive and unreliable – and it only will get worse as climate change takes hold.
  • Improved economy: Dirty beaches, trashy rivers and polluted water are not conducive to tourism; we need to protect the value of greater L.A.’s $16 billion coastal economy.

MYTH: No one knows where the money will actually go. It will disappear into a rabbit hole in the General Fund.

FACT: Some 455 specific projects have already been identified by cities to help green L.A.

Some of the region’s best engineers have devised these multi-benefit infrastructure projects as part of watershed management plans that L.A. County cities must implement as a part of their stormwater permit. These projects have been approved not only by local cities, but by our regulatory agencies. We have the data-driven blueprints; now we need the funding to turn smart vision into reality.

MYTH: This is yet another financial burden on low-income communities and seniors on fixed incomes.

FACT: Low-income senior citizens would qualify for exemption from the Measure W parcel tax.

Low-income communities face the same penalties for not complying with the federal Clean Water Act, but they lack the resources to meet requirements.  Measure W provides funding for small-scale or community projects, for technical assistance and for stormwater education programs. Priority will be given to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities to assist in reaching compliance and avoiding federal fines.

MYTH: The measure penalizes property owners who have already made improvements capture rain or reduce runoff on their parcels.

FACT: Measure W includes a credit program for those who have already reduced runoff on their property (or commit to do so).

If you already installed a cistern that captures runoff from your roof, your roof no longer counts as a taxable impervious surface, and your tax estimate will go down. If you installed stormwater capture projects that eliminate runoff from your property entirely, and capture additional runoff from your neighborhood, you may receive a tax credit up to 100% of your original tax estimate.

MYTH: There is no mechanism to make sure the money is spent correctly.

FACT: A citizens oversight committee will provide transparency and accountability.

Each city will be given flexibility in spending the 40% of funds raised that go back to municipalities, while annual reporting and audit requirements will ensure it is spent responsibly on appropriate projects. The 50% of funding going to regional projects is awarded competitively and has even more stringent requirements to ensure responsible spending. Five separate committees will ensure that funding is given to projects that meet required criteria and that there is a 110% benefit return to disadvantaged communities. Spaces are reserved on the Watershed Area Steering Committee for a wide array of stakeholders, including community, environmental and business voices.

MYTH: We would all pay this tax, but it will only benefit a few people in certain areas.

FACT: All communities in greater L.A. will benefit from Measure W.

The measure will fund a wide range of project types and sizes, from neighborhood to regional in scale. The program allocates funds to areas in proportion to the taxes generated in that area. The combination of municipal programs (40% of tax revenue), regional projects (50% of tax revenue — with 110% benefit return to disadvantaged communities), and a requirement for a range of projects sizes will provide an equitable distribution of funds and an equitable distribution of benefits.

MYTH: This is a forever tax, with no “sunset clause.”

FACT: The Board of Supervisors can eliminate the funding measure in 30 years.

The tax is set at 2.5 cents per square foot of impervious surface on a given parcel. That price will never increase with inflation, which means that its value (and relative cost to the taxpayer) will decrease over time. After 30 years, property owners will pay the equivalent of approximately 1 cent per square foot, at which time the tax will be up for review by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. By this time, operations and maintenance will account for the vast majority of spending, so that cities do not have to dip into their general fund to keep these projects going for years to come.

MYTH: Green projects cannot reduce flood risk as well as gray infrastructure like concrete stormdrains and channelized rivers.

FACT: Nature works.

Many cities around the world are using nature-based projects to capture stormwater. Many of these initial projects are showing that green streets, wetlands and infiltration parks do reduce flood risk, while also providing many other benefits to its community. Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia are already using green solutions to meet the challenges in their rain-intensive communities, such as flooding and erosion. Here in L.A. County, the Elmer Avenue Neighborhood project has dramatically reduced flooding along streets used by residents and local school children.

MYTH: The taxing of individual property owner’s permeable surface is an arbitrary and unfair method for addressing the region’s stormwater issues.

FACT: A parcel tax is the fairest way for addressing the problem of stormwater runoff.

Fees based on the amount of impermeable surfaces make sense because they correlate directly to the source of polluted runoff. Property owners can implement project that capture their stormwater on-site to reduce their tax burden. The average parcel tax is estimated at $83, but property owners can go to a County website to determine their annual assessment. They can also appeal if they think their parcel tax is determined inaccurately.



From native storytelling to underwater ROV exploration, this weekend’s Marine Protected Area celebration at Zuma has plenty to offer, writes guest blogger Melina Watts. 

When ocean systems are allowed to function, the beauty of the sea generates life and vitality.  Marine Protected Area are protected underwater parks and have become a powerful tool for healing the world’s oceans.

This Saturday, Heal the Bay is joining Los Angeles Marine Protected Area Collaborative  for an “Honor the Ocean” event at Zuma Beach to celebrate these jewels off our local coastline.

Thanks to the hard work of many committed people, the state of California has established safe havens near Point Dume, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island. Vulnerable species, pressured by overfishing and other human impacts, now have a chance to recover and breed.

Like terrestrial wildlife preserves, MPAs only succeed in protecting marine life if they are supported by the people who live, recreate and work in or near the MPA. We are reaching out to community members, tourists, surfers, fishers and students to celebrate these special places, our own “Yosemites of the Sea.”

The diverse members of the Collaborative bring unique expertise to the event. The day will begin with a Chumash blessing ceremony next to a tomol, a hand-constructed canoe, to connect to marine traditions that have existed for millennia. Midday storytelling by Tongva and Chumash elders will share the ecological and spiritual connection to the sea that flows through both Chumash and Tongva cultures.

Using recreation as a tool to connect guests to marine protection, Malibu Makos Surf Club will offer free surf lessons adjacent to the event. Los Angeles County Lifeguards will teach sidewalk CPR, and allow guests to check out the lifeguard longboards.

Given the driving need to preserve and restore marine biodiversity, Honor the Ocean offers a remarkable array of opportunities to learn on site about local marine life, including sea mammals, fish, algae, insects and birds.

Scientists and staff from the participating groups such as Heal the Bay, L.A. Waterkeeper, the Bay Foundation, California State Parks and the Cabrillo Marine Museum will offer natural history interpretation and talks. Via a beach walk, Linda Chilton from USC Sea Grant will teach citizen scientists how to use the iNaturalist app, which allows people to document and upload their discoveries in the wild. Heather Burdick will guide participants in a scavenger hunt.

Guests will have a unique chance to see state-of-the-art science in action. USC Sea Grant will bring a new underwater remotely operated vehicle. Attendees can see footage collected in Los Angeles County’s Marine Protected Areas. California Department of Fish and Wildlife will have a warden on site to explain MPA regulations, and offer free copies of the LA MPAs Fishing Guide.

Given that ocean health depends upon healthy watersheds, both the City of Malibu and Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains will provide insights about how human activities on shore impact marine systems.

In northern Los Angeles County, local MPAs start at El Matador (just below County Line) and come all the way down to Paradise Cove. In this area there are two categories of MPAs: the Point Dume State Marine Reserve, and the Point Dume State Marine Conservation Area.

In the Point Dume reserve area, one of the most protective of MPA designations, all fishing and harvesting is prohibited. This area stretches from El Matador to Point Dume.

In the Point Dume conservation area, limited recreational and commercial fishing are allowed and fishing is regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This area ranges from Point Dume to Paradise Cove.

Thinking globally, for the last three decades, countries around the world have created MPAs to protect marine environments and preserve biodiversity. Some 2.07% of the sea worldwide is now protected though some type of MPA.

If you plan to attend, please register for the event here. We hope you will join us in this celebration of marine life and First Nation culture!