Heal the Bay, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Los Angeles Waterkeeper have worked together to develop a “Vision 2045” report with bolder goals, targets and recommendations for the stormwater capture, water supply, water quality, equity, science, finance, and policy.
In 2018, Los Angeles County residents passed a landmark funding measure (Measure W), which imposed a parcel tax on impervious surfaces to fund stormwater projects to increase local water supply, improve water quality, and provide community benefits through the Safe, Clean Water Program (SCWP). With an annual budget of approximately $280 million, the SCWP has the potential to transform how Los Angeles County manages stormwater, prioritizing climate resilience and community health and well-being.
The SCWP is currently undergoing its first official assessment through the County’s Biennial Review process, offering an opportunity to assess progress, reflect on the achievement of goals, set targets, and make recommendations. Numerous water quality deadlines have passed in an environment that is becoming hotter and less hospitable and frontline communities are bearing the brunt of those impacts. Therefore, despite numerous successes in its first four years, it has become evident that in order to meet future ambitions, a clear and realistic roadmap is required. In fact, it is now clear that the SCWP must be even bolder in its goals, targets, and timelines in order to accelerate the equitable transformation of LA County to greener, more local water self-sufficient and climate-prepared communities.
That is why, Heal the Bay along with our partners at Natural Resources Defense Council and LA Waterkeeper, representing three of the LA region’s leading water advocacy organizations shared a new report with LA County decision makers tasked with overseeing the ambitious SCWP.
With climate change accelerating, one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure Angelenos will continue to have the water they need to thrive in the decades to come is to make the most of every drop of rain that falls. The groups that drafted this vision document note there is a real urgency to ensure the Safe, Clean Water Program is implemented in a way that is both effective and equitable. Among other goals, it calls for a target of an additional 300,000 acre-feet of stormwater to be captured and put to use every year by 2045. The document also calls on the county to aggressively reduce water pollution by complying with state deadlines, and ensure that at least 10% of projects in disadvantaged communities that are funded through the program are led by community-based organizations, to ensure robust community involvement.
The vision document also proposes a target of replacing 12,000 acres of impermeable surfaces with new green space by 2045: a nature-based solution that provides recreation, open space, public health benefits and more. It calls for all schools located within the boundaries of state-defined disadvantaged communities to become green schools by 2030, with all LA County schools meeting that target no later than 2045. Vision 2045 also sets a target of developing an outreach plan to actively engage local tribes in program implementation by the end of next year.
Yes, 2045 is more than twenty years in the future and unforeseeable changes are ahead economically, environmentally and politically (for better or worse). Most policy makers and groups working on the program will have moved on and so the way to stay on target is to set realistic (but bold) milestones goals, targets, timelines to stay on track and achieve safe, clean, water for all.
See our top-level goals, and additional recommendations the full report (below).
In the not-so-distant past, disposable plastic bags were a ubiquitous sight, fluttering in the wind and littering our streets, waterways, and beaches. But Los Angeles took a pioneering step in 2014 and implemented a city-wide bag ban in grocery stores. The state of California soon followed, after dozens of districts across the state banned single-use plastic bags, and since then, light weight single-use plastic grocery bags have been officially outlawed. And yet, single-use bags have slowly crept back into our lives.
This month, Heal the Bay launched the “No Bag November” campaign, urging everyone to embrace and recommit themselves to declining single-use plastic bags, and digging up their reusable bags from the depths of their pantries to reaffirm our commitment to a plastic-free Los Angeles. In this blog post, we’ll explore the history of the plastic bag, the nuances of the bag ban, and what we can do to create lasting change.
The Story of the Plastic Bag: A Brief History and the Bag Ban
Behold the infamous “Plastic Bag Monster” at the height of the single-use-plastic bag epidemic before the passage of SB270.
The Rise of the Plastic Bag: Disposable plastic bags became an environmental scourge as their production skyrocketed in the late 20th century. Their lightweight nature meant that, after being used for mere minutes typically, they could easily escape from trash cans and pollute our oceans and landscapes. These bags, while only a fraction of all single-use plastics, are particularly problematic due to the challenge of recycling the thin film which often clogs recycling machinery.
The “Plastic Bag Monster” awaits their fate as the plastic bag ban becomes law, first in Los Angeles, then across California in 2016.
The Bag Ban: California’s bag ban, Senate Bill 270, was implemented in 2016 after a multi-year fight and statewide public vote (Prop 67), and was a significant step towards reducing plastic pollution. This law banned single-use plastic carry-out bags from groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores, and more and required a $0.10 charge on any other carry-out bags provided to customers. Championed by environmental groups across the State, including Heal the Bay, it was a momentous move that set a trend for the rest of the nation. However, the battle was far from over.
The Nuances of the Bag Ban: Despite its initial success, shown by a significant reduction in plastic bags removed from shorelines and beaches during Coastal Cleanup Day events following its passage, the bag ban has faced challenges, including the loophole that allows thicker “reusable” high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic bags to be sold to customers for the $0.10 fee. These bags present the same waste disposal challenges as their thinner counterparts and are still prolific.
The COVID-19 Bag Resurgence: The bag ban’s so-called “failure” during the COVID-19 pandemic was due to a massive surge in disposable plastics from takeout and grocery delivery, coupled with precautious emergency waivers from state officials that lifted the state’s bag ban. The reality is that, while at first there were many unknowns around COVID-19 transfer and our state leaders took all necessary steps to keep frontline workers safe, it was later proven that reusable bags never posed a risk. But big plastic lobbyists continued to push the flawed narrative of “unsafe” reusable bags and the damage was done; reusable bags disappeared from shopper carts, almost overnight, and the culture shifted backwards. Now, as the LA Times reported this past summer, reusable bags are no longer a priority for grocery stores or for customers. But here’s the silver lining: The City of Los Angeles recently expanded its bag ban beyond grocery stores to all retail facilities, marking a step in the right direction.
Plastic Bag Monsters have made a resurgence since 2020. How can we ensure this invasive species goes extinct?
Recommendations for Policy Updates: To truly make an impact in the new paradigm, we need to amend the bag ban. We must close loopholes, enforce the regulations, enhance consumer awareness, and increase monitoring efforts. Heal the Bay’s “No Bag November” campaign is the perfect opportunity to recommit to our waste reduction and renew the age-old success of reuse.
So, What Can We Do?
As Individuals: The “No Bag November” campaign invites individuals to participate actively. Open that broom closet and dust off your reusable bags and pledge to refuse single-use plastic bags throughout November. Heal the Bay is offering to collect your stash of single-use plastic bags for upcycling, in exchange for a reusable tote.
Creating Systemic Change: To create a lasting impact, we must influence systemic change. Earlier this year, Reusable LA launched “Hold the Plastic, Please” tip cards to increase awareness of plastic foodware laws with your local businesses and encourage them to join the movement against plastic pollution. Get your tip cards to help us create systemic change beyond the plastic bag.
Don’t Forget Who to Hold Responsible: Big Oil and Big Plastic
Big Oil and Big Plastic: While we might fear the “Plastic Bag Monster,” the true villains in this story are Big Oil and Big Plastic. These industrial giants relentlessly produce plastics that harm our environment and frontline communities and funnel millions of lobbying dollars to stop us from passing laws regulating their production. It’s time to shift the responsibility to these industries and demand stringent regulations to reduce plastic pollution at its source.
LET’S TAKE ACTION!
The “No Bag November” campaign is our opportunity to rekindle our commitment to the environment. Beyond just saying “no” to single-use plastic bags, it’s a chance to rally against the true adversaries: Big Oil and Big Plastic. As a community, let’s stand together to demand stronger policies and push for lasting change. Below are options for you to embrace “No Bag November” and exchange your single-use bags for a reusable tote:
November Nothin’ But Sand Beach Cleanup: Help rid the beach of harmful plastic pollution during our LAST BEACH CLEANUP of 2023. Bring your collection of single-use plastic bags to Toes Beach on Saturday, November 18, 2023 from 10am-12pm, to make sure they are properly recycled and receive a reusable tote in exchange. REGISTER IN ADVANCE HERE! Or show up at 10 AM on Saturday! This event will be held rain or shine.
Drop-Off Box at Alma Backyard Farms in Compton: Come by Alma Backyard Farms’ big Thanksgiving event to drop off your single-use bags in exchange for some swag – and shop for organic local produce! Event will be November 19th 8am-1pm at 801 E Redondo Beach Blvd, Compton, CA 90220. More information about this regular event here!
Check out our list of plastic film products you can drop off at any Heal the Bay Collection Site!
Storm drains dump untreated, unsafe water on our beaches – Heal the Bay’s Storm Response Team gives you the safety guidelines to get out a cleanup and stop the trash before it reaches our marine life neighbors at the coastline.
The slow-moving Pacific Storm making its way through Los Angeles County is expected to bring 1-2 inches of rain from Wednesday to Saturday. This first flush of the season will send more than 20 billion gallons of water rushing through the city bringing accumulated debris from our gutters, storm drains, and waterways out to the beach.
Please join the Heal the Bay Storm Response Team to protect our coastal waters this rainy season.
Ready to take the next step? Complete the virtual training to be added to Heal the Bay’s Storm Response Team.
EACH TIME IT RAINS, the Los Angeles storm drain system rushes untreated waterand all the debris that litters our streets, gutters, and sidewalks right into our beaches and coastline. Cleaning up the mess made by these trash-freeways in our community calls for the help of our trusty Storm Response Team! Made up of Heal the Bay staff and dedicated volunteers, the Storm Response Team acts as the last line of defense, removing garbage washed out of the storm drain system and local waterways before it reaches the ocean. Interested in conducting your own Storm Response Team deployment? Please remember to stay safe and follow our extended self-guided cleanup safety tips for post-storm and atmospheric river conditions.
When the call goes out, the Team puts on their rubber boots, gloves, and raincoats and goes out during low tide or during a break in the rain to local catch basins and outfalls, gathering as much trash as they can. Pollution and litter upstream are swept through the system and, while the Heal the Bay team attempts to get out there quickly, a barrage of atmospheric rivers dousing our southland can make it extremely difficult to stave the flow of trash, debris, and unsafe particulates. We are encouraged by the volunteers who have reached out about helping to do individual clean ups, but we must warn that it is a filthy job and volunteers should proceed with caution.
Heal the Bay is constantly advocating for upstream solutions that would stop the flow of pollution into our local waterways and prevent the need for storm response teams in the future. Reducing single-use plastics and polystyrene, the technical term for products commonly referred to as styrofoam, has a significant impact on reducing the amount of trash that reaches our oceans.
Heal the Bay also supports efforts to collect, treat, and use stormwater. Measure W, passed in 2018, provides funding for local stormwater capture, treatment, and reuse projects. These efforts will drastically reduce our reliance on imported water, reduce pollution in our local waterways and coastal waters, and reduce risks to public health.
Stay out of the water. The County of Los Angeles Environmental Health Department and Heal the Bay urge residents and visitors to avoid water contact at Los Angeles County beaches for at least 72 hours following rain event. Check our Beach Report Card website or app before your next swim along the coast.
Written by Stephanie Gebhardt. As our Beach Programs Manager, Stephanie organizes Heal the Bay’s beach cleanups and community beautification projects. With experience in sustainability consulting and science communication, she unites Angelenos in protecting what they love.
Heal the Bay was honored by the Los Angeles City Council for the impactful role of both the Angler Outreach Program and Heal the Bay Aquarium on October 20 2023 with the official declaration of Heal the Bay Day.
Heal the Bay staff have been glowing with pride since Los Angeles City Council officially declared October 20, 2023, as “Heal the Bay Day in LA.” Led by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Traci Park (CD11), a special presentation was held with City Council colleagues to formally honor the organization while highlighting the 20th anniversaries of its Angler Outreach Program as well as the Heal the Bay Aquarium. These keystone programs use science, education, community action, and advocacy to fulfill Heal the Bay’s mission to protect coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California. The Angler Outreach Program and Aquarium continue to be champions of public health, climate change awareness, biodiversity, and environmental justice for our local communities.
Honoring the Platinum Anniversaries of Two Keystone Programs
From Summit to Sea, the effects of Heal the Bay’s legacy of impactful environmental programming can be seen throughout Los Angeles, advocating for Angelenos and local ecosystems alike.
For two decades Heal the Bay’s award-winning multi-lingual Angler Outreach Program has educated more than 190,000 pier and shore anglers about the risks of consuming fish contaminated with pollutants and toxins, which fish that contain higher levels of toxins and the amounts that can be safely consumed. The work ripples out beyond the coast, touching the lives of people throughout Los Angeles County who fish to sustain themselves and their families.
Also celebrating its platinum anniversary, Heal the Bay Aquarium, located at the Santa Monica Pier, welcomes more than 100,000 guests annually and hosts a variety of public programs and events that highlight local environmental issues and solutions. The award-winning marine animal exhibits and education programs work to equitably inspire the next generation of environmental stewards with programming for Title One students, seasonal camps, and community partnerships.
Heal the Bay at Los Angeles City Hall
The “Heal the Bay Day” presentation was led by Councilwoman Traci Park (CD11) and joined by Councilmembers Katy Yaroslavsky (CD5) and Councilmember Tim McOsker (CD15), who collectively recognized Heal the Bay’s efforts to protect our waterways by bringing science, education, and advocacy into communities all over LA. Councilmembers Imelda Padilla (CD6), Curren Price (CD9), Bob Blumenfield (CD3), and Council President Paul Krekorian (CD2) also shared thoughtful stories about Heal the Bay and partnership projects.
Heal the Bay President and CEO Tracy Quinn led staff, board members, and Heal the Bay supporters to the council chambers floor to accept the commendations and take time to recognize all who make Heal the Bay’s impactful work possible. She pointed out that “Heal the Bay started with a single focus; to heal Santa Monica Bay but over the years we have become an organization that works to protect safe clean water for all of Los Angeles.”
“Water is something that connects us all, especially here in Los Angeles” Quinn went on to say. “Every one of your 15 districts [represented here] has a direct impact on the health and availability of water for all. And it starts on your streets, in your backyards, and in your parks.”
“I want to thank those of you who have already partnered with us and invite those who have not yet, to join Heal the Bay in its final mission to protect our Coastal waters and waterways, and to ensure safe and reliable water for all Angelenos.”
Councilmember Traci Park (CD11) whose district includes much of the westside including Venice, led the ceremony, “As the caretaker of our City’s coastal district, to get to partner with the leaders in Heal the Bay who are advancing smart water policy here in Los Angeles and beyond, as they do beach cleanups and do educational work, hosting them today in Council was an absolute honor.”
Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky (CD5) kindly pointed out the range of Heal the Bay’s efforts, “There is no greater organization doing this work — making sure everybody knows how dirty our water is than Heal the Bay. Part of what makes Heal the Bay so special is that they extend their work beyond your typical beach cleanup, though they do a spectacular beach cleanup.”
Councilmember Tim McCosker (CD15) whose district includes areas along the coast took the conversation beyond cleanups to describe Heal the Bay’s “holistic approach to make sure that we are reducing the amount of pollution that gets out there, eradicating the pollution and educating folks, as well as proposing legislation to make sure that we continue to heal the planet through healing the ocean.”
It was a day the Heal the Bay Team will never forget. Whether you are new to the organization as a volunteer, staff member, or supporter, or have worked to environmentally empower Los Angeles with Heal the Bay since 1985, this day was a victory for all of you. The beautiful plaques featured above commemorate October 20, 2023, as “Heal the Bay Day in LA”, but these City Hall resolutions cement our organization in the story of Los Angeles forever.
Thank you to all the volunteers, donors, and supporters who continue to make our work possible.
Wrapping up our 2023 Heal the Bay Volunteer Season with a look back at our 2022 achievements.
Heal the Bay thrives because of the work and dedication of our amazing volunteers. 2022 was an especially incredible year for our volunteer program as initiatives that were suspended by COVID protocols in 2020 were reenergized by our staff, donors and of course our volunteers!
As we end our 2023 Volunteer Season we take time to reflect on the wins of the year before. Heal the Bay is proud to share all our volunteer accomplishments and achievements in our 2022 Volunteer Impact Report, created by our Volunteer Programs Manager Annie Lopez.
Are you ready to make your impact as a volunteer? Want to help care for animals at the Aquarium? Interested in educating the public on the sand at Beach Cleanups? Ready to help protect precious ecosystems found in Marine Protected Areas? Join us for our LAST Volunteer Orientation of 2023 to learn about all the ways you can help protect what you love!
It is with heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Cindy Montañez (January 19, 1974 – October 21, 2023).
Successful nonprofit leaders typically embrace one of two types of advocacies — either grassroots or grasstops. Grass-toppers exert extra influence on campaigns by mobilizing influential politicians and high-profile movers-and-shakers. Grassrooters, on the other hand, rely on passionate everyday people in the community to rally around a given cause and demand change.
Grasstop power is knowing the right people. Grassroots power is strength in numbers.
Cindy Montañez, the longtime CEO of TreePeople who passed away today, was the rare policymaker who had the charisma and smarts to wield both forms of power. She knew how to work her roots and the political treetops.
At heart a Valley Girl, Montañez worked tirelessly to promote the interests of the working-class Latino community she grew up in. At UCLA, she was one of five students who led a successful hunger strike in 1993 to overturn a decision to not fund a Chicano Studies program on campus. After being elected to the San Fernando City Council at the ripe age of 26, she later served as state Assemblymember, becoming the youngest person and the first Latina to ever chair the powerful Rules committee.
Those political connections would later help fuel her work at TreePeople, which shares Heal the Bay’s vision for a greener, more equitable, more sustainable greater L.A.
While Heal the Bay and TreePeople engage in a form of co-opetition, as our former Communication Director Matthew King used to put it, ”Each nonprofit works hard to differentiate itself to secure government grants, fundraising dollars and media attention, but when it comes to environmental policy in greater L.A. our two organizations are usually joined at the hip.“
The health of L.A.’s tree canopy and the health of L.A.’s ocean and watersheds are inextricably linked. What is good for trees is good for the sea. That’s why our policy teams have put their collective weight and clout over the years behind sound policy that will clean air, water and soil for generations to come in the Southland.
In 2006, then Assemblymember Montañez was the keynote speaker for Heal the Bay’s first Urban Watershed Summit at Compton College. She continued to work with Heal the Bay on various issues, playing a huge role in bringing the Measure W coalition to victory in 2018. The Safe Clean Water Program now provides nearly $300 million in public funds for increased stormwater capture and reuse throughout the region.
While her political savvy in the corridors of power drove victories like these, her deep connection to her family’s immigrant experience underpinned all her success.
“She’s selfless, it’s never about Cindy. It’s always about the greater objective,” Mark Gold, former CEO and President of Heal the Bay, said shortly before her death. “She really wants to make a difference in the community. She knows that improving the environment is improving the quality of life for the community she cares about.”
Recently, the Los Angeles City Council honored Cindy for her lifetime achievements and her many roles and impacts of influence and action.
The LA Regional Water Board approved an agreement for one of the nation’s most polluted sites. Concerns about transparency, accountability, and loopholes in this agreement leave the public vulnerable to continued contamination from the Santa Susana Field Lab.
LATEST UPDATE OCTOBER 19, 2023
We called for accountability. The Regional Board listened.
In August 2022, The Los Angeles Regional Water Board approved an agreement with Boeing to eventually consider removal of water quality regulations at their highly contaminated Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) site, formerly known as Rocketdyne, located in the hills above Simi Valley. This would only happen after soil cleanup has been completed, and after they have proven that surface water runoff from the site is clean. That proof of whether runoff is clean, however, depends on how well it is regulated – we don’t know what we don’t check for. The Los Angeles Regional Water Board voted today on updated regulation of runoff from SSFL, keeping the most stringent water quality limits, adding even more monitoring, and addressing the potential for surface water pollution to contaminate local groundwater through stormwater holding ponds. In this action, the Board has ensured that, if and when they consider removing regulation at this site at some future time, we can be sure that it would not happen at the expense of public and environmental health. There will also be publicly accessible quarterly reports on Boeing’s soil cleanup efforts at the site moving forward, which will help to keep Boeing accountable. Thank you to the Regional Board for using your authority to ensure protections for these lands and water resources!
UPDATE AUGUST 11, 2022
THE REGIONAL WATER QUALITY CONTROL BOARD VOTED ON AUGUST 11 to approve an agreement concerning Boeing’s highly contaminated Santa Susana Field Lab, formerly known as Rocketdyne, located in the hills above Simi Valley. The agreement sets up a process by which Boeing will eventually be able to remove its water quality regulations after cleanup has been completed, and after they have proven that runoff from the site is clean. Heal the Bay attended the 10-hour-long August 11 hearing and, while we fully support cleanup, we voiced our concerns that this agreement would not adequately protect water quality or public health and asked for a postponement to make improvements to the plan. We also raised concerns with the process — the agreement was made behind closed doors, the public was not able to submit written comments, and the only opportunity to speak was at the hearing. Due to an overwhelming turnout from members of the public, input at the hearing had to be further reduced from the typical 3 minutes to 1 minute and cut off completely at 5pm.
Both Boeing and the Regional Board claimed that this agreement was necessary for Boeing to commit to the required cleanup work, and that a delay in approval of the agreement would only delay the cleanup efforts. Stakeholders were put in an unfair position, threatened with delayed cleanup if we did not support an agreement that we had remaining concerns about. However, the blame for delays should not be placed on stakeholders and community members; these concerns and objections are not what is slowing down the process — Boeing has yet to even start a cleanup that was supposed to be completed back in 2017. As community member Marie Mason mentioned to me at the hearing, “If Boeing wanted to do the right thing, they would have done it 20 years ago,” and could have avoided the impacts of pollution and contamination exposure during that time. Further, the cleanup plan itself also raised concerns (see more on this in the next section) and while the decision before the Board was not specifically on the cleanup plan, the cleanup and the agreement are inextricably linked, and approval of the agreement meant a de facto approval of the cleanup plan.
Despite the overwhelming call for either a no vote or a delay, the Board unanimously approved the agreement, with minor edits. Heal the Bay will remain engaged on this issue because the bottom line is that cleanup to a level that is fully protective of human and ecological health needs to happen as soon as possible.
The history of contamination at the Santa Susana Field Lab
Boeing, NASA, and the Department of Energy own the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) site, where industrial activities were conducted from 1949 to 2006 to test rocket engines and nuclear reactors. This site contains high levels of contamination from these past activities, which have negatively affected the ecosystem, the groundwater, and the surface water that runs off the site, as well as the communities that rely on those water resources. Additionally, SSFL is located on top of a hill, which means that runoff from the site flows downhill into the community to the north in Simi Valley, feeds into the headwaters of the Arroyo Simi waterway, and feeds into theheadwaters of the Los Angeles River. Contamination from this site affects the entire LA Region, but the impacts are felt most severely in local communities.
In 2007, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) set requirements to fully clean up the contaminated soils at SSFL by 2017. But after decades of litigation and delays (led by Boeing), we are now five years after that deadline, and the cleanup has barely even begun. The longer we wait for Boeing to clean up their mess, the longer our ecosystems and communities are exposed to the contamination. In fact, the 2018 Woolsey fire remobilized existing contamination, leading to 57 distinct surface water violations in a single wet season. Had the cleanup been completed by 2017, as originally required, these violations would not have occurred. To add insult to injury, nearly all of Boeing’s fines associated with those violations were waived. Members of the community are the ones paying the price. According to a study by epidemiologist Hal Morgenstern of the University of Michigan, “the incidence rate [of cancer] was more than 60% greater among residents living within 2 miles of SSFL than among residents living more than 5 miles from SSFL.”
To avoid additional delays, CalEPA announced in May 2022 that a new cleanup settlement had been negotiated over the past several years between DTSC and Boeing, with an agreement that Boeing would not sue over this one. However, with no opportunity for public engagement, or even public comment, stakeholders have been left with so much uncertainty surrounding the new cleanup requirements. Community groups, non-governmental organizations, and even municipal legal consultants have reviewed the final cleanup agreement. These expert reviews have revealed a number of contamination limits altered in the latest version, and there is uncertainty on whether these changes are based on the best available science.
The agreement between Boeing and the Regional Board
The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board, which regulates only the surface water runoff at this site, drafted an agreement (also known as a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU) with Boeing to outline how Boeing can eventually remove its water quality regulations. The MOU requires Boeing to complete the soil cleanup as required by DTSC, and conduct modeling and monitoring to prove that surface water runoff is clean. The Regional Board believes that this MOU provides an extra safety measure, setting additional milestones to protect surface water quality, even if the cleanup agreement is flawed.
Although we agree with this in theory, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement for surface water quality protection if significant changes were made to the agreement language. Unfortunately, the Regional Board offered no opportunity for written comment on the MOU. Luckily, Heal the Bay was able to attend the hearing in person and provide our full statement in writing to the Board members, even if our verbal comments were cut short.
To address remaining concerns about the agreement, we asked the Regional Board to commit to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program to show whether surface water runoff is clean.
We recommended that the MOU must ensure regulation of past industrial activity, not just of future construction activity.
While the MOU had the potential to provide assurances for protection of surface water, the potential was not there for groundwater. We urged the Regional Board to reclaim regulatory authority of groundwater to ensure that the long-term quality of both surface water and groundwater at this site were sufficiently protective of human and ecological health.
If buried contaminated soil is left behind under the DTSC cleanup requirements, an earthquake or another fire followed by flooding could re-mobilize buried contamination. We demanded that the MOU include a statement to ensure that the responsible parties would have to address any and all remaining contaminated soil so long as they pose a risk to human or ecological health.
“This MOU is an opportunity to provide a backstop to protect surface water quality even if there are flaws in the cleanup agreement. However, the MOU can only offer this type of reinforcement if some changes are made… To ensure that our concerns are addressed, we request that the Regional Board commit now, within the language of the MOU, to providing a period for written public comments on the monitoring program.” – Elana Nager, Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Elana Nager, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.
In response to Heal the Bay’s comments, the Regional Board did commit to our recommendation #1, to provide a period for written public comments on the monitoring program — a program that will determine whether the cleanup was successful. We have remaining concerns about how rigorous that monitoring program will be, but by securing a public review we will at least get the chance to address those concerns later on.
“We request that the ‘or’ in this statement be removed… Coverage must be specifically related to past industrial activity. One word makes a world of a difference.”
– Prince Takano, Heal the Bay
Heal the Bay Policy Intern, Prince Takano, provides public testimony at the August 11, 2022 Hearing of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning the Santa Susana Field Lab Memorandum of Understanding.
Although Board Member Christiansen attempted to include provisions for all of Heal the Bay’s recommendations, our two biggest concerns about re-mobilization of contaminated soil and pollution of groundwater were ultimately left unaddressed. In fact, when the Regional Board asked DTSC to address these concerns, DTSC Director Williams responded simply that groundwater will be monitored, and that the geology at this site is complicated. There was no additional discussion.
Even with the severely limited public process, significant remaining concerns, and the hundreds of voices asking for a either a no vote or a delay (including surprising testimony from former Regional Board Chair Lawrence Yee, who attended as a member of the public to ask the Board to reject the agreement), the Regional Board unanimously approved the MOU, with minor edits.
Where do we go from here?
The few small changes to the MOU do ensure a better public process moving forward, but do not ensure that this MOU will protect surface water quality or public health. However, we might have another chance to hold Boeing accountable for contaminated surface water runoff through their current water quality regulations (or discharge permit), which is up for renewal right now and will be upheld until cleanup is complete and they have proven that surface runoff is clean. There will be another Regional Board meeting later this year to discuss that permit. Heal the Bay will be there advocating for a strong permit that is protective of water quality not only in runoff from the site, but also runoff on the site, which can infiltrate into the ground and further contaminate the soils and groundwater. Stay tuned for more information about that meeting, and how you can join Heal the Bay to hold Boeing accountable.
EDITOR NOTE: Since the publishing of this blog post, the Regional Board has reached out to Heal the Bay to clarify that the reduced speaking time offered during the hearing was a direct result of the unusually large turnout from members of the public. The article has been updated to acknowledge these conditions.
Written by Annelisa Moe. As a Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa helps to keep L.A. water clean and safe by advocating for comprehensive and science-based water quality regulation and enforcement. Before joining the team at Heal the Bay, she worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board in both the underground storage tank program and the surface water ambient monitoring program.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has decided to rescind the previous delay after tests showed spiny lobsters no longer pose a significant risk for domoic acid exposure in LA and Orange Counties. This decision was made after samples from Oct. 2 and 9 indicated domoic acid levels were below the concerning federal threshold. Recreational lobster fishing commenced at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, and commercial fishing will begin just before sunrise on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Updated October 6, 2023
The much-anticipated opening of California’s spiny lobster season is facing a delay in some local areas due to a concerning public health and environmental issue: elevated levels of domoic acid. This potent neurotoxin is produced by harmful algal blooms, events that are intensifying under the influences of climate change.
It’s important to emphasize the danger of domoic acid – we recently saw major impacts to marine life from domoic acid poisoning. Domoic acid is produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a marine algae that seems to flourish under certain ocean conditions. When these toxins accumulate in seafood, particularly shellfish, they can pose serious health risks for humans ranging from nausea to severe neurological impairments and, in extreme cases, exposure can be fatal. Climate change is exacerbating the frequency and severity of these harmful algal blooms, making it a pressing concern.
The delay impacts both recreational and commercial fishing in certain regions of Los Angeles and Orange counties. Areas surrounding the delay-area are under a health advisory which advises people against consuming spiny lobster viscera (internal organs) and roe (eggs). Cooking does not rid the lobster of these toxins.
Recreational fishing, originally set to commence on September 29, 2023 at 6 p.m., and commercial fishing, beginning October 4, 2023, are both affected. For recreational enthusiasts, the delay is in effect in waters from the northern boundary of the Point Vicente State Marine Conservation Area (off Rancho Palos Verdes) to the Long Beach Breakwater. Meanwhile, commercial areas that are off-limits include waters off Palos Verdes, LA County to Huntington Beach, Orange County.
The California Spiny Lobster. Source: US National Park Service
The delay will remain in place until toxin levels have decreased. The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in coordination with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and CA Department of Public Health (CDPH), will continue to test lobsters and re-open the areas when two lobster samples obtained at least a week apart are below the health hazard threshold. To stay updated about the delay, refer to the CDFW and CDPH websites. Continue following Heal the Bay for coverage of the California spiny lobster season delay.
The Heal the Bay Angler Outreach team will educate pier anglers on preventing the consumption of lobster contaminated with domoic acid and local fish contaminated with DDT during our visits to various piers in Southern California this season. You can help defend our marine life by volunteering with us!
Coastal Cleanup Month 2023 was a big success for Heal the Bay! Thank you to all our Healers who made this amazing month possible. Join us for a look back at all we accomplished in September of 2023, from Summit to Sea, and get ready for all we have to look forward to in October of 2023.
Spectrum 1 Spotlight: Heal the Bay’s Everyday Heroes Kick off Coastal Cleanup Day
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Kicking off Coastal Cleanup Day — Check out the incredible news package featuring our own Meredith McCarthy and long-time rockstar volunteer Fallon Rabin for Spectrum News 1 “Everyday Hero” weekly segment that ran hourly throughout the programming day and evening.
Coastal Cleanup Education Day 2023
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
The Wednesday before Coastal Cleanup Day was “Coastal Cleanup Education Day” at the Aquarium and it was all hands on deck for Heal the Bay staff. Our Aquarium hosted more than 250 3rd-5th grade students from across Los Angeles County for a day of beach exploration, scientific excursions, pollution education, and hands on learning while having some fun in the sun.
ONE Water Day
Friday, September 22, 2023
Our third annual ONE Water Day was a huge success and reintroduced Heal the Bay as a thought leader on water policy in LA! Heal the Bay convened the top LA water agencies, state leaders, and policy experts to participate in a compelling conversation about how to balance reliability and affordability as we adapt to a changing climate. We also welcomed California Assemblymember Laura Friedman (AD 44) and Senator Ben Allen (SD 24), along with several City and County staff. We were also pleased to host our partners from local engineering firms to listen in to the big water issues impacting the future of our City, County and State.
This year’s theme was balancing reliability and affordability – we discussed how water agencies and state leaders are planning to pay for the multi-billion-dollar water recycling projects planned for LA County and how they will ensure that underserved and low-income communities will be able to afford water for their basic needs. The consensus was clear — we will do it by working together! Water agencies, state and federal partners, NGOs, and the business community must come together to invest in innovative solutions to achieve our water reliability and climate resilience goals.
Coastal Cleanup Day was a tremendous success this year. Our staff and volunteers overcame every obstacle thrown at them and came together to achieve the best Coastal Cleanup Day in years! The teamwork was absolutely inspirational. There is no question that we had an incredible turn out and we’ve already turned our eyes to next year (Sept 21, 2023) where we are planning to do even better.
Starting in August LA was a buzz with excitement over Coastal Cleanup Day 2023. Registration for Heal the Bay sites were covered by news outlets like LAist (KPCC), Good Day LA, Spectrum News1, the OC Register, and many more. Even our local elected officials got into the spirit if CCD including LA City Councilwoman Traci Park (CD11) who proudly donned a Heal the Bay shirt in City Council to promote Coastal Cleanup Day. Check out her full City Council presentation from the August 25th, 2023 meeting.
The energy on the day of was nothing less than spectacular across our many beach, underwater, neighborhood and inland sites.
And a special thank you to our 2023 Coastal Cleanup Day Sponsors:
Heal the Bay Day in LA
Friday, October 20, 2023
SAVE THE DATE: On October 20th, the Los Angeles City Council (presented by Councilwoman Traci Park – CD11) will honor Heal the Bay for the 20th Anniversary of our Aquarium and Angler Outreach Program and declare October 20, 2023, Heal the Bay Day in LA. I hope you can join us in City Council Chambers between 10am – 12noon.
But rather than simply listing them here, we are turning today’s blog over to Mark Gold, former president and CEO of Heal the Bay. Mark joins us to describe “Abe”, as he was affectionately called, and his incredible influence and work to mold the Heal the Bay we are today. In the words of Mark Gold:
“In the mid 1990’s, Mark came to me at Heal the Bay as an accounting student at Pepperdine. He was ‘bored out of his skull’ and wanted to do something to help out the Bay. And he expressed a strong dislike of polluters because of what they had done to the Bay, creeks and rivers that he grew up in. So, as the nurturing soul that you all know me to be, I gave him a horrible task as an intern – to review stormwater permit annual reports for all 88 cities in the County and to write a report on their compliance status. Any normal person would have tapped out and bailed on such a task. Abe stayed for another 12 years!! After his internship, he went on to get his master’s degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly Pomona. That was a commute. One of the cool and innovative parts of their master’s program was that you had to complete a group project thesis for a client: in this case – Heal the Bay. Abe being Abe, he got his three partners including Eileen Takata, a mainstay as the watershed and EJ conscience at the Army Corps, to work on the project. In typical audacious fashion, Abe got the team to create the Malibu Creek Watershed StreamTeam, which turned into the premier volunteer watershed monitoring program in the state. The comprehensive program had monthly water quality monitoring for nutrients, fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), pH, dissolved oxygen (DO) and other contaminants, sediment macroinvertebrate biodiversity sampling, and the most audacious component – mapping the entire Malibu Creek and its tributaries for physical changes and stream health in the creek. They mapped all the creeks in a 109 square mile watershed.
Every time you are in this watershed, thank Mark. That data was instrumental in so many environmental wins. He treated this watershed as if it was a family member. He did anything and everything for it. StreamTeam data led to pollutant and discharge reductions from the Tapia water recycling facility. Thanks Abe. As the eyes and ears of the watershed, Abe provided critical information that led to multiple enforcement actions at the Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Board. Thanks Abe. Ahmanson Ranch never would have been saved without him. First of all, he convinced me that we needed to make this supposed “lost cause” a Heal the Bay priority. This was after he mapped the creeks on the parcel in a clandestine manner – I remember his excitement about the red legged frogs’ grotto like it was yesterday. Then we had to convince our board to oppose a development for the first time in organizational history! The end result was partnering with Mary Weisbrock, Mati Waiya, Ventura County, Rob Reiner, Chad Griffin, Chris Albrecht and many others to stop the destruction of the headwaters of the Malibu Creek watershed – 10,000 people and 2 golf courses. Thanks Abe. And thanks Governor Davis for investing $150M for the permanent preservation of the Ranch. All those steelhead migration barriers removed in Solstice, Malibu Creek and other locales, nature based BMPs built, 101 wildlife underpass landscaped, and tens of acres of riparian habitats restored. Thanks Abe.
And thanks Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs for highlighting Abe’s work. And finally – Malibu Lagoon. Or Mark’s Lagoon as he viewed it. From restoration design, to nature-based parking lot construction to the CEQA process to withstanding mean-spirited, vitriolic opposition, to construction, to planting to monitoring. Abe was leading every step of the way at Heal the Bay, LA Waterkeeper and the Bay Foundation. Magnificent work. Thank you, Abe.
But Abe was so much more than a landscape architect and practicing restoration ecologist. He was a larger-than-life figure with an irreverent sense of humor, a loud, booming voice, infectious laugh, enormous stubborn streak, strong ethics, generous spirit, opinions about everything, and tireless dedication. Mark Abramson was a doer, not a talker. He could spot BS from a mile away. And then he’d call it out. As his boss, he was unmanageable, but with all he accomplished, who cares? And his army of volunteers were as dedicated and loyal as he was.
Former LA Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kenneth R. Weiss, summed up Abe in a profile article as, “Nothing seems to intimidate this espresso-guzzling, Marlboro-smoking, Altoid popping eco-cop in cargo shorts. Not the poison oak or stinging nettles that block his path to the creek. Not slogging through tainted water. Not accusations of trespassing (from the former Ahmanson Ranch development team) when he follows the creek to someone’s property.” Abe – we miss you. I’ll miss you yelling out “Goldie!!”. We will all miss that big laugh. We will miss sharing a beer and reminiscing about the good fight. We will miss your F-bombs and passion for protecting Santa Monica Bay and the Santa Monicas. We’ll miss your inimitable style of a broad brimmed hat, cargo shorts, a T, wool socks and hiking boots. We will miss that big heart. But we will remember you always – every time we set foot in Ahmanson Ranch or Malibu Lagoon. Abe’s Lagoon.”
READ MORE ABOUT THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF MARK ABRAMSON