Heal the Bay Blog

Author: Sarah Sikich

plastic straws malibu ban

This week the City of Malibu took California a step closer to the sipping point by enacting an ordinance banning the distribution of polymer and bioplastic plastic straws. The new law also prohibits local establishments from giving out plastic and bioplastic stirrers and cutlery.

Restaurants have until June 1 this year to transition to more sustainable products, such as paper or metal straws and bamboo forks, knives, and spoons.

Let’s pause here – just for a flippin’ moment – and JUMP FOR JOY at this momentous win!

Plastic straws suck

Beverage-related items account for roughly 40% of the trash in our environment. Heal the Bay has long campaigned to curb the plastic plague through our beach cleanups, helping establish zero trash policies to protect local waterways, defending California’s hard-fought plastic bag ban, and advocating for other local and statewide policies to require greener alternatives to commonly littered plastic items.

Over the past 15 years, Heal the Bay volunteers have removed nearly 100,000 straws from beach cleanups throughout L.A. County. That’s 100,000 straws too many. So in response to this staggering local trend, we ran a Strawless Summer campaign last summer, partnering with businesses and encouraging Angelenos and visitors to forego the plastic straw.

Start sipping and stop sucking

Our ultimate goal was for restaurants and cities to become aware of the local plastic pollution problem and recognize how simple it is to be solution-oriented and transition to a straws-upon-request approach where straws aren’t given out freely, but instead, customers have to ask for them (much like we do for water in California). So, we were thrilled that the City of Malibu not only is moving to straws-upon-request, but also making it a requirement that restaurants only provide environmentally friendly, non-plastic cutlery, straws, and stirrers.

What’s the deal with bioplastics?

Some may wonder about why bioplastics are included in the ban. Although they are largely made from greener source-products than petroleum, like sugar cane and corn starch, they provide litter and waste management challenges. Bioplastic products don’t readily break down in rivers, creeks and the ocean; instead they require the high heat and bacteria provided by industrial composting facilities to decompose.

Strawless forever

We found through our Strawless Summer campaign, businesses and their customers are generally on board with green business practices, especially when it makes both environmental and economic sense.

The report issued by the City of Malibu to evaluate policy options and alternatives found that the cost difference between plastic and more sustainable alternatives is minimal – it’s only about $.01 more per straw for paper straws.

Thank you Malibu, for helping L.A. to stop sucking. Who is next?

Mentoring is a powerful thing. Here we catch up with our former teen advocate Zola Berger-Schmitz, left, who has blossomed into a Georgia eco-warrior.

Heal the Bay is thrilled that our own volunteer and super healer, Zola Berger-Schmitz, will be honored this week at the influential 2017 Women in Green Forum with the Youth Trailblazer Award.

Zola came to us as a 12-year-old on a mission – she wanted to be involved directly in Heal the Bay’s work to make our oceans more vibrant and full of life. Instead of just coming out to a beach clean-up here and there, Zola dug in deep, got her friends and family involved, and even took her spring break to attend a Fish and Game Commission hearing and testify before the agency, requesting that Marine Protected Areas be established in L.A.

As her passion for environmental advocacy grew, Zola became involved in Heal the Bay’s efforts to prevent plastic pollution and build a youth brigade of high school clubs. Zola is now a junior at Emory University, where she is co-president of the Emory Climate Organization, an intern for the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, an intern with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and served as a youth delegate at the United Nations 2016 Climate Talks. As the premier venue to promote women’s leadership in sustainability in California and beyond, it is fitting that Zola is being honored at the Women in Green Forum this year.

Here, Heal the Bay vice president Sarah Sikich reconnects with the young woman she successfully mentored.

Sarah Sikich: What sparked your interest in ocean conservation and environmental activism at such a young age?

Zola Berger-Schmitz: Shortly before I turned 12, my grandparents enrolled me in an oceanography camp at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. I had always been interested in reading about marine life, but I hadn’t had much exposure to oceanographic research or to the field of marine biology as a whole.  What I learned at the camp absolutely blew my mind. I remember being fascinated by the notion that plankton could be bioluminescent, and enamored with the NOAA submersibles we toured that were used to conduct deep-sea research expeditions. That same summer, I had a sudden epiphany: “What if there were no more fish left in the ocean?” Later that year, I decided to visit Heal the Bay to learn more about ocean conservation and found out about a campaign you were working on to help adopt Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the Southern California coast. I was pretty shocked to discover that although we had national parks like Yosemite on land, there were no state parks underwater. At that moment, I knew that I had to do something to help, especially if I wanted to ensure that my children and grandchildren would still be able to see fish in the ocean one day.

SS: You’ve been involved in many campaigns and projects with Heal the Bay over the years. What was the most influential for you?

ZBS: The first campaign I worked on with Heal the Bay, the campaign to adopt Marine Protected Areas along the Southern California Coast, was probably also the most influential. I hadn’t had any experience with legislative advocacy and I had no idea how to get up in front of a group of stakeholders and give convincing testimony. Soon, several Heal the Bay staff members began mentoring me and through watching them in action, I learned how to write speeches that appealed not only to fellow environmental activists, but also to politicians who were more skeptical about the need to adopt MPAs. A few months later, you helped inspire me to produce a film with my entire middle school that focused on the importance of preserving the ocean for future generations. By the end of the campaign, I had grown from a shy 12-year-old into a poised teenager who felt prepared to present a film in front of the California Fish and Game Commission. When it was announced that Marine Protected Areas had been adopted along the Southern California coast, I was ecstatic and it was the first time that it fully occurred to me that anyone, myself included, could help have an impact on the public policy process.

Zola, second from the left, at our 2010 volunteer party.

SS: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your environmental activism career thus far?

ZBS: When I was in my first year of college at Emory University, I decided to testify in front of the Georgia Public Service Commission in order to advocate for more renewable energy options in the Georgia Integrated Resource Plan prepared by Georgia Power. This IRP determines in large part what the Georgia energy landscape will look like over three year periods of time. Before the hearing, I was told that it would be unwise to use the term climate change when giving my testimony, because it could alienate climate-skeptic politicians. Instead, I had to learn how to make economic arguments about renewable energy and how to approach energy savings from the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis. It was quite frustrating at first to give a public testimony without including information about climate change and coal emissions. Over time, however, I learned how to adapt quickly to my environment, and I have become much better at gauging how to best appeal to different kinds of audiences.

SS: What is something you’ve learned during your time working with Heal the Bay that you will take with you for the rest of your life?

ZBS: One of most important things I learned at Heal the Bay is that you don’t have to be a scientist, politician, or policy expert to have an influence on public policy and to affect environmental change. You can be a middle-school student or even an elementary-school teacher. A lot of people are too intimidated to speak up for what they believe in because they are afraid that they will come across as inarticulate and uninformed. When I first got involved in environmental activism, I was in a similar boat. I didn’t have that much knowledge about the nuances of environmental legislation and knew very little about the science behind phenomena such as overfishing and sea-level rise.  What I did have, however, was the passion to make a difference. In college, a lot of my peers are surprised that I have the courage to testify in front of politicians or approach delegates at the United Nations Climate Talks. This is largely because Heal the Bay gave me the confidence to put myself out there, even in tough situations.

SS: How do you stay motivated in a field that’s faced with so many competing interests and obstacles?

ZBS: I always remind myself that change doesn’t happen overnight. Some of the most successful campaigns that I was involved in during my time at Heal the Bay, such as the campaign to ban plastic bags in the City of Los Angeles, were campaigns that took over 15 years to effectively implement. Persistence is key to staying motivated, even when things don’t look like they are going to work out. Often times, the most satisfying victories are the victories that were the hardest to achieve.

SS: What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing a career in environmental conservation?

ZBS: I have a few really simple pieces of advice. First of all, try to find a mentor. It can feel daunting to think about pursuing a career in a field like environmental conservation, and it really helps to talk to someone who has already gone through some of the same hoops. Sarah, you are one of my biggest mentors at Heal the Bay and have continued to serve as an inspiration to me in college and beyond. Secondly, get as much practical experience as you can early on. The only way to learn about environmental activism is to participate in it directly, whether that means speaking at public hearings, starting an environmental club at your school, or simply signing up for a carbon footprint reduction challenge. The more and more opportunities you take advantage of, the more you learn about yourself as well as your strengths and weaknesses. And lastly, just go for it! You don’t need to be a seasoned environmental activist to have an opinion that matters.

Climate change is real. We could lose two-thirds of our beaches in L.A. by 2100, writes Heal the Bay vice president Sarah Sikich.

As a surfer, scientist, and unabashed fan of romanticized sunset walks on the beach, my heart sunk as my news feed was blasted with a double whammy of bad beach news this week.

First, the White House declared war against the smart climate change policies enacted by the previous administration, which served to protect our communities and the economy. Second, the U.S. Geological Survey unveiled a report that projects that Southern California could lose up to two-thirds of its beaches by 2100 due to climate-related sea-level rise. We cannot afford to move backwards with climate policy when now, more than ever, public health and our environment need proactive solutions to mitigate against and adapt to negative impacts related to rising temperatures.

Los Angeles is known for its beaches. They fuel tourism in the region and provide Angelenos a place to breath, relax, and take in the horizon – offering a break from the buzz and stress of city life. But, these beaches also buffer our coastal communities from the incoming tide and pounding waves. With sea level rise projections of up to 6.5 feet by 2100, eroded beaches would give way to flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, such as Wilmington and Venice. Floods would do damage to coastal infrastructure, like PCH and water treatment plants, pump stations, and other structures that service our communities. A detailed report came out last month from USC Sea Grant that projects detailed impacts from sea level rise along the entire Los Angeles County coastline, and the projections are even starker with the new USGS study released this week.

Exposed bedrock on a beach near Santa Barbara. Daniel Hoover, U.S. Geological Survey

The best way to prepare our coastal communities is to invest in strong climate policy in two ways: mitigating the impacts of climate change by curbing emissions, and by buffering our built and natural environments through adaptation measures that help protect against climate change impacts already underway.

These measures work best when the natural environment is enhanced through measures like dune restoration, protecting and restoring kelp forests, and beach nourishment. And, as demonstrated by the USGS study, agency research is a critical part of the process. Unwinding climate policies and gutting budgets for EPA and NOAA — key agencies that invest in climate research and preparedness — will only leave us with our heads in the sand, drowning from the rising seas.

The good news is that research, planning, and management measures can be put into place to help curb the impacts from sea-level rise. But, the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to take meaningful action. Now is the time to double down on efforts to prepare and defend our coastlines. Please join Heal the Bay and our supporters in making your voice heard by signing our petition calling for funds to be maintained for climate programs in both NOAA and EPA. More than 70,000 ocean lovers and science believers have joined the call. Please add your voice.

Some comments from our supporters around the nation:

“I’m signing because I believe in science. Climate change is real, and our planet is in peril.” – Andrea from Mill Valley, CA

“These cuts in funding are directly against our country’s and humanity’s best interests.” – Floyd from Anchorage, AK

“The EPA is indispensable – I want myself, my family, my community, my country and my planet to be protected!” – Meg from Salt Lake City, UT

“Any proposed reduction in funding for the EPA and NOAA will adversely affect the U.S.’s ability to combat climate change in ways that we cannot afford.” – Elizabeth from Dallas, TX

Heal the Bay staff scientists Sarah Sikich and Dana Murray report on the latest efforts to save Malibu’s troubled Broad Beach from erosion and sea-level rise.

Ocean waves lapping against a golden sandy strand of beach in Malibu, low tides exposing rocky reefs full of tidepool animals in Lechuza Cove, and a healthy beach dune habitat providing homes for endangered snowy plovers and sand dune critters. Is this the Broad Beach of the past, or a vision of the future if environmentally sound restoration comes to this erosion-challenged shoreline?

Since a rock revetment was placed in front of homes in this well-to-do community four years ago, the beach has seriously eroded.  Faced with sea level rise and waves eating away at the beach in front of their properties, homeowners are proposing a combined rock revetment and sand nourishment project to restore the beach and protect their homes — a fate that the California Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission will ultimately decide.

If approved, the undertaking would be the largest beach nourishment project in the state. But the stakes are much greater than the fate of this one mile stretch of sand. What happens at Broad Beach is a bellwether for how California beachfront communities address climate change and sea level rise, stressors that are sure to increase in the coming decades.

In 2010, the Coastal Commission granted the Broad Beach homeowners an emergency permit to quickly build a rock revetment wall to protect 78 beachfront homes during a winter of severe storms. The emergency permit has since expired and the rock revetment is no longer permitted, so homeowners are proposing a new project that would bury the existing rock revetment with over 600,000 cubic yards of sand to form dunes and nourish the scoured-away beach.

After years of collaboration and research, a coalition of environmental nonprofits led by Heal the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation presented thoughtful recommendations to the California Coastal Commission at its December meeting on how to balance coastal habitat protection with home protection through the proposed Broad Beach restoration project. The good news is that we witnessed strong leadership and efforts to protect the environment from Coastal Commissioners, which resulted in the homeowners withdrawing their project proposal after a seven-hour discussion to make some refinements based on the recommendations provided at the hearing.

Although Heal the Bay supports the idea of a restored sand dune and beach system at Broad Beach, the project as proposed would bury tidepools and seagrass habitat in the adjacent marine protected area and threaten water quality along this popular stretch of coastline. We have been working with homeowners and agency staff to recommend a project that meets the needs of the homeowners, while protecting the unique habitats off Broad Beach.

The need to protect marine life and water quality resonated with the Coastal Commissioners at the hearing. Following an hour of presentations by Coastal Commission staff, the homeowners, and environmental nonprofits, a lengthy discussion ensued among the Commissioners.

Most Commissioners indicated support for many of our recommended changes to the project, such as limiting beach and dune nourishment activities to regions that would least impact the marine protected area and getting rid of septic systems along the beach. Great environmental leadership and direction were especially shown from Commissioners Bochco, Zimmer, Groom, and Shallenberger. Commissioner McClure chimed in on water quality and said: “The residents of Broad Beach need to fix their toilets. No. 1 issue. There needs to be an aggressive plan for septic systems.” She also emphasized the importance of marine life protection: “We need to protect our MPAs … We have some of the best protections in the world. … We can’t be putting hundreds of thousands of yards of sand in an MPA where we have important marine life.”

However, just as the Commission made a motion to vote to approve the project with many of our recommended improvements, the homeowners stepped up to the podium and withdrew their application. Realizing that the vote would likely require significant changes to their project, the homeowners elected to spend more time working together to refine the proposed project and resubmit their application to the Coastal Commission early next year. We hope to see more of the science-based recommendations we have been advocating for in the next version of the project.

Heal the Bay will continue to work to ensure that the biggest proposed beach nourishment project in California is the least environmentally damaging as possible, and sets a good precedence for adaptation to sea level rise. We will also advocate for strong monitoring of whatever project moves forward at Broad Beach, as there are many questions about coastal environmental impacts of such a large-scale project and the stability of a dune restoration atop a rock wall.

Stay tuned.

Sea level rise and erosion have taken their toll on Malibu’s Broad Beach.

By now, we all know that a swimmer was bitten by a white shark in Manhattan Beach last Saturday. Escape the media feeding frenzy with Heal the Bay scientists Sarah Sikich and Dana Roeber Murray as they inject a dose of reality into the sensationally roiling waters.

Why did this shark bite the swimmer?

A juvenile white shark, approximately 6-8 feet long, was caught by hook-and-line from Manhattan Beach Pier on the morning of Saturday, July 5. After the shark had been struggling for 40 minutes on the angler’s line, a group of ocean swimmers inadvertently crossed its path. As one swimmer passed over the thrashing shark, he was bitten on his side and hand. It is likely that the bite was accidental because the swimmer crossed the shark’s path while it was in distress. Shark experts call this a provoked attack because there was human provocation involved–in this case with a hook, line and fisherman. Any animal that’s fighting for its life is likely to feel provoked and threatened.

Why are there sharks in this particular area?

Santa Monica Bay is home to dozens of shark and ray species. Many of them are small, like the swell shark and horn shark, and live in kelp forests and rocky reefs. Juvenile great white sharks are seasonal residents of Southern California’s coastal waters, likely congregating in Santa Monica Bay due to a mixture of abundant prey and warm water. Manhattan Beach has been an epicenter for sightings over the past few summers. White sharks are frequently spotted by boaters, pier-goers, surfers and paddlers–especially between the surf spot El Porto and the Manhattan Beach Pier. Juvenile white sharks, measuring up to 10 feet, prey mostly on bottom fishes such as halibut, small rays and other small sharks.

What can I do to be safer while swimming in the ocean?

There are risks involved with any outdoor activity, so it’s important to be smart about where you swim. We’d like to remind people that poor water quality, powerful waves, strong currents and stingrays pose a greater threat to local ocean-goers than sharks. Instead of fearing the fin, swimmers should remember to shuffle their feet in the sand to avoid being stung by rays, be aware of lifeguard warnings about currents and waves and check Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card for water quality grades.

How can I reduce my chances of encountering a shark?

According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, there have only been 13 fatal white shark attacks in California since the 1920s. Your own toilet poses a greater danger to life and limb than any shark. Swimmers and surfers have frequented Manhattan Beach for generations, and it is commonly known that the area is home to a seasonal population of juvenile white sharks. If you’re still concerned, here are some quick tips to avoid run-ins with fins:

  1. Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage.
  2. Avoid areas used by recreational or commercial fishermen.
  3. Avoid areas that show signs of baitfish or fish feeding activity; diving seabirds are a good indicator of fish activity.
  4. Lastly, do not provoke or harass a shark if you see one!

What should I do if I see a shark in the water?

First, assess the risk: If it is a small horn shark or thornback ray, it is safe to swim in the area–but keep your distance from the animal. If a larger shark is spotted, like a white shark, it is best to evacuate the water calmly, trying to keep an eye on the animal. Do not provoke or harass the shark. Report your shark sighting, with as much detail possible, to local lifeguards.

If you are one of the few people attacked by a shark (the odds are in your favor at 11.5 million-to-one), experts advise a proactive response. Hitting a shark on the nose, ideally with an inanimate object, usually results in the shark temporarily curtailing its attack. You should try to get out of the water at this time.

Should the city or county be looking at other shark safety precautions?

Los Angeles County lifeguards have a safety protocol of warning ocean-goers to exit the water when there has been a verifiable shark sighting, and this is a good protocol. Lifeguards may also close the beach temporarily to ocean-goers based on the risk. However, closing beaches for long periods of time due to shark sightings or closing piers to fishing will not likely reduce the risk, nor is it consistent with California’s laws or beach culture. We also recommend creating a program to educate sport and pier anglers about how to avoid catching sensitive species like white sharks and how to act responsibly if one is caught.

I enjoy fishing on the pier…what can I do to ensure I’m doing it safely?

If you enjoy fishing, it is best to avoid areas where there are lots of swimmers and surfers in the water. From swimmers getting tangled in fishing line to bait fish attracting predators to the area, fishing where people are in the water is not a good idea. Regarding pier fishing specifically, it’s important to note that many anglers who fish on municipal piers do it for subsistence–to put food on the table. Piers are one of the only places in the state where individuals do not need a fishing license, which reduces expenses and provides public access to fishing for everyone. However, anyone that fishes or hunts anywhere in California must adhere to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations. These regulations state that “white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) may not be taken or possessed at any time.”

Why are sharks worth worrying about? Why should we protect them?

Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean. They keep populations of other fish healthy and ecosystems in balance. In addition, a number of scientific studies demonstrate that the depletion of sharks can result in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species down the food chain, including key fisheries such as tuna.

Despite popular perceptions of sharks as invincible, shark populations around the world are declining due to overfishing, habitat destruction and other human activities. It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed worldwide each year. Of the 350 or so species of sharks, 79 are imperiled, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. There are several important spots for Northeastern Pacific white sharks in California, yet they are vulnerable to ongoing threats, such as incidental catch, pollution and other issues along our coast. White shark numbers in the Northeastern Pacific are unknown but are thought to be low, ranging from hundreds to thousands of individuals. They’re protected in many places where they live, including California, Australia and South Africa.

What is Heal the Bay doing to protect wildlife while keeping people safe?

Heal the Bay works toward solutions that benefit both people and ocean wildlife, from advocating for pollution limits and cleaner beaches to supporting marine protected areas and more sustainable fishing practices. We closely monitor new and emerging science to inform these actions.

While fishing for white sharks in California is prohibited, there are no limits on white shark bycatch in U.S. fisheries. Sharks can be entangled as bycatch by set-and-drift gillnet fisheries in their nursery habitats off the coast of California. Although these fisheries target other fish like halibut and white seabass, they also incidentally catch sharks. Heal the Bay has recommended better drift gillnet regulations to reduce shark bycatch, including research to improve fishing practices, and advocating for increased observer coverage for bycatch on fishing vessels.

Shark finning, the practice of cutting fins from a living shark and then tossing its body back into the ocean to die, is another threat to sharks. Millions of sharks worldwide are killed for fins each year. Fortunately, states and countries worldwide are banning this practice. In 2011, a Heal the Bay-supported bill passed with tremendous public support, banning the trade of shark fins in California.

Please contact Heal the Bay if you’d like more information on our local shark population, swimmer safety and conservation efforts.


This fact sheet is presented in partnership with the Surfrider Foundation.

Together, we’re committed to protecting Southern California’s waters.


The City of Hermosa Beach has a moratorium in place that prohibits oil drilling. After years of legal battles, a settlement was reached between E&B Natural Resources and the City of Hermosa Beach that could potentially allow the community to be opened up to oil drilling by putting the moratorium up for reconsideration. Hermosa Beach residents will vote March 3, 2015, on a ballot measure to allow slant-drilling into the Bay. E&B Natural Resources wants to erect an 87-foot drilling rig and up to 34 wells on a 1.3-acre plot in a residential neighborhood, extracting up to 8,000 barrels of oil each day by slant-drilling under the seafloor and surrounding beach communities. E&B had an existing lease arrangement before the current moratorium was put in place.

If voters repeal the existing moratorium, the City would have to pay $3.5 million to E&B, and the company would pursue permitting for the proposed oil drilling operation. If voters uphold the moratorium, drilling would be barred. But the city would have to pay $17.5 million to E&B under a complex settlement brokered by past city councils.

MYTH: This is a relatively small project that only affects a small slice of the Bay and really is an issue for Hermosa Beach to decide.

FACT: Oil spills know no boundaries. With nearly 50 million annual visits to Santa Monica Bay beaches and a coastal economy worth over $10 billion, a spill off Hermosa Beach would be a financial and ecological nightmare for all of Los Angeles.

oil covered plastic bottle on beachSlant-drilling into the Santa Monica Bay from Hermosa poses significant environmental and economic risks throughout Los Angeles County and the entire Bay. This project would also be precedent-setting: There are no drilling projects currently accessing oil under the Bay. Slant-drilling from onshore under offshore waters raises many of the same concerns as any other offshore oil drilling project, in terms of increasing the risk of a coastal oil spill, causing air and water pollution and contributing to global climate change. The proposed drilling operation is only six blocks from the beach. If a spill cannot be contained, oil will ultimately reach the Santa Monica Bay and surrounding communities.

MYTH: Given all the new technology, there’s really very little chance of an oil spill actually happening.

FACT: A revised EIR (Environmental Impact Report) states that there is a 12% chance of an oil spill from the proposed project.

Oil spills have the potential to significantly impact marine life and habitats in the Bay and throughout the Southern California Bight because they can spread rapidly over great distances and can be difficult to detect and clean up. A 12% chance of a spill is simply not worth the risk. An oil spill that originated in El Segundo in the 1990s reached Malibu Lagoon, and the infamous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill spread along the coast for more than 35 miles. Furthermore, any oil spill is likely to have an impact on tourism and the coastal economy. Our state and local community has made significant investments to protect and enhance marine and coastal habitats in the Bay, such as establishing marine protected areas in Malibu, Palos Verdes and Catalina Island; restoring Malibu Lagoon; Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission’s National Estuary Program; and the planned restoration of Ballona Wetlands. An oil spill would directly undermine these long-term efforts.

MYTH: Hermosa Beach will reap a great deal of economic benefit if drilling moves forward.

FACT: The royalties proposed by E&B Oil may seem attractive in theory, but they are theoretical and wildly speculative.

Oil spill in city street

The final cost benefit analysis (CBA) and supplement added in January 2015 show a significant drop from initial revenue estimates for Hermosa Beach from the proposed project. Projections state that only $25 million to $77 million could go toward the city’s general fund over the 35 year life of the project—less than $1 million per year. And that’s with the price of oil pegged up to $95 per barrel. With current oil prices at about $40-$45 per barrel, revenue to the city’s general fund may only equate to half that income. Additionally, should the project be approved, the CBA estimates that the project will cost the city $19 million to $26 million to relocate the City Yard where the operation would be sited, remove contaminated soil from the site and to displace a revenue-generating storage facility.

In addition to the substantial project costs cited above, the CBA predicts a 10% drop in property values for home near the drilling site should voters approve Measure O.

But there are no guarantees when it comes to oil exploration. No one can accurately predict the productivity of proposed wells. Furthermore, the use of royalty payments is highly restricted, given that the majority of the revenue will come from drilling in the Tidelands. State law blocks vast majority of funding on services like police and street improvements. Despite promises of the project being a boon for local schools, according to the updated supplement to the CBA reflecting current oil barrel prices, the Hermosa Beach City School District is only projected to receive net revenues of approximately $900,000 over the 35-year life of the project. That pencils out to be about $26,000 annually—enough to cover the education costs of less than five Hermosa students. This is a small benefit when weighed against the health risks associated with drilling in a residential area.

MYTH: Hermosa Beach can’t afford to pay a $17.5 million penalty to E&B if voters uphold the moratorium.

FACT: The city has already set aside $6 million for this purpose, and staff is researching other fiscally prudent ways to pay the remainder of the $17.5 million over time that would not put undue hardship on city budgets.

The city’s cost-benefit analysis estimates loan payments to be roughly $750,000 to $800,000 annually (over 30 years). That amount totals about 3% of the City’s annual budget – not an insignificant amount, but certainly not enough to cause severe financial stress. The study also estimates that if a payment plan was based on levying taxpayers, the average cost would be $150 a year on the average home price of $1 million—a modest insurance policy against the almost-incalculable financial burden of an oil spill. However, in a financial presentation provided by City of Hermosa Beach experts at the Hermosa City Council meeting on January 27, 2015, it was clearly stated that the City does not need to raise taxes to pay E&B if Measure O is defeated. In fact, there are compelling indications in the new supplement to the cost-benefit analysis that Measure O’s defeat would actually be less costly than its passage.

MYTH: The drilling operations will pose very few risks to community health.

FACT: Noxious gasses released from the site may cause air pollution and odor issues, which have led to respiratory problems, eye and skin irritation, headaches and other ailments in communities where oil drilling already occurs.

Activist in Hazmat suit at hearing Keep Hermosa Hermosa Campaign to Stop Oil DrillingHermosa Beach is the most densely populated coastal community in California, with about 13,670 people per square mile. It also attracts nearly 4 million visitors annually. The proposed project site lies in close proximity to schools, parks, neighborhoods, trails, businesses, and the beach. Thus, public health impacts are a major concern for Hermosa Beach residents and visitors alike. The Health Impact Report was finalized in September 2014, and other studies of the potential health risks posed by oil drilling operations elsewhere cite heightened rates of respiratory ailments and depression. The H.I.A. identifies a 28% increase in nitrogen dioxide, which is associated with asthma in children. Noise and other quality-of-life issues also pose a community health concern, as drilling operations are proposed to occur day and night. Seniors, children, and people with existing medical conditions represent the populations most vulnerable to these health threats.

MYTH: The proposed drilling operation raises few safety concerns.

FACT: Nearly half of Hermosa Beach residents live within a half mile of the proposed drilling site. The project would have significant negative impacts on safety, aesthetics, odors, wildlife, water quality and noise.

Drilling would occur within 100 feet of homes, businesses, and widely used greenspace, which raises serious health and safety concerns. For comparison’s sake, homes, businesses, and schools in Dallas are protected from oil drilling by a 1,500-foot setback requirement. Oil drilling operations can also be dangerous and have caused blowouts and hazardous spills in other communities. The Environmental Impact Report asserts that the project would have significant unavoidable impacts in 9 areas: aesthetics, air quality (odors), biological resources (wildlife), water quality (spills into subsurface soils/or ocean through storm drains), land use (open and residential spaces), noise, recreation, safety and risk of upset (e.g. blowout during drilling). The project also has the potential to threaten the municipal water supply, exacerbate seismic instability, and cause subsidence (caving in or sinking of land from drilling activities).

MYTH: The drilling operations will not affect the aesthetics and livability of surrounding neighborhoods

FACT: The proposed slant drilling operation introduces a major industrial use that raises compatibility concerns with Hermosa Beach’s family-friendly and artistic community character.

Surfer covered in oilThe oil project would occur within 10 feet of heavily trafficked Valley Drive, and less than 100 feet from homes, businesses, and the Hermosa Valley Greenbelt. The 87-foot drill rig and associated 110-foot work over rig will introduce a visually dominant, industrial feature to the community of Hermosa Beach. And, although they will not be permanent features, E&B proposes to use them for drilling and redrilling efforts over the 35-year lifespan of the project. A 35-foot wall will permanently surround the site in attempt to buffer noise impacts. Additionally, traffic is a major community concern. E&B estimates an additional 10,500 miles of heavy truck traffic during the first 10 months of construction alone, and 32 truck trips daily during subsequent phases of the project.

MYTH: Los Angeles County already has numerous oil wells, so there is precedent of safe drilling in the region.

FACT: Although there are many oil wells throughout Los Angeles County, safety remains a concern with all forms of oil drilling in densely populated regions.

10,000-gallon crude oil spill in Atwater Village looked 'like a lake'On May 15, 2014, 10,000 gallons of crude oil spilled in Atwater Village, Glendale, when an above-ground pipeline burst, sending a geyser 20 to 50 feet into the air. In March, Wilmington had crude oil running down its residential streets due to a ruptured pipe. Communities elsewhere along the California coast, like Goleta and Carpinteria, have successfully fought slant-drilling proposals. Most recently, the City of Carson rejected a bid by Occidental Petroleum to drill within city limits. The proposed operation in Hermosa Beach poses great risk to the economic, environmental and community health of the Santa Monica Bay and the greater Los Angeles region. Allowing drilling to take place underneath the seafloor in Hermosa Beach would set a terrible precedent for future protection of Santa Monica Bay. It opens the door for further exploitation of one of our region’s greatest natural resources and recreational havens.

What can you do to prevent oil drilling from taking place in Santa Monica Bay?

Check out our Hermosa Activist’s Toolkit.

Looking for citations? Contact us.

Many members of Heal the Bay staff were saddened by the death at age 84 of Bob Meistrell, waterman and wet suit revolutionary. A few of us share reflections on his life:

“Bob inspired many people to enjoy the ocean through surfing and diving, which is seen and felt throughout Los Angeles, and especially in the South Bay. Through the years, several of Heal the Bay’s staff, interns, and volunteers were touched by Bob’s passion, which translated for many of them into a personal charge to help protect and restore our local coast and ocean. We are thankful for his leadership and the many lives he touched.”

— Sarah Sikich
Coastal Resources Director

“I learned to dive in the early 90s. My very first wet suit was made by Body Glove, which Bob co-founded with his twin brother Bill. I remember walking into Dive N’ Surf, buying my wetsuit and seeing this old photograph of Bill and Bob holding some big bugs. That just blew me away — that year I caught my first lobsters off of Rocky Point.

The Meistrells helped shape the waterman culture in the South Bay in the early days and they were definitely an inspiration to me. Anyone that has learned to dive, surf or paddle in the South Bay owe it to Bob & Bill. They changed the world of ocean sports.

I am lucky to live in the South Bay and proud to have grown up here.  I still dive today and I support the shop. I am grateful to be a part of it and will always appreciate the Meistrell family.”

— Jose Bacallao
Operations Manager, Santa Monica PIer Aquarium

“Although sad, Bob was out on the water on his last days on earth, which I know is where he’d want to be.

Bob had taken me out on his boat a few years back to do some Reef Check surveys, and to breakfast at his local yacht club. He knew everyone’s name, was fun to talk to, a very generous man and true waterman. I bought my first SCUBA gear at his dive shop.

This is a loss for the dive and surf community, but his impacts on watermen and women will last for a long time.”

 Dana Roeber Murray
Marine & Coastal Scientist