Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Culver City

UPDATE: On May 8, Culver City’s City Council voted unanimously to adopt the single-use polystyrene ban. The ban goes into effect on November 8, 2017.

Earlier this week, the City of Culver City took the first step to join other local municipalities to pass a ban on two types of plastics which wreak havoc on marine life and are often used by food providers: polystyrene foam (commonly known as Stryofoam™) and oriented polystyrene.

Polystyrene foam is frequently used in take-out food packaging like cups and to-go boxes. It’s very lightweight and often flies away from trash bins and landfills. Oriented polystyrene (aka solid polystyrene) is used to make items like utensils, lids and food packaging.

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Polystyrene is seldom recycled due to its low quality and value, even though it’s designated with recycling code 6.

As a result, both types of polystyrene are ubiquitous at beach and watershed cleanups. According to Heal the Bay’s Marine Debris Database, our volunteers have picked up 504,832 Styrofoam™ items from beaches in L.A. County in the last 10 years. Banning these specific plastics is a big win for our coastal environment, especially considering Culver City is situated within the watershed of Ballona Creek and its downstream wetland habitat.

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Santa Monica started banning polystyrene ten years ago, and there continues to be talk of a ban on a state-wide level. But now Culver City has the bragging rights. This local municipality courageously chose to adopt some of the most stringent policies in the area by banning polystyrene coffee lids and straws from businesses as well.

The Culver City ban will begin on November 8, 2017, giving local businesses time to run through their current stock and prepare for the changes. According to the Culver City ordinance, no food provider shall use, distribute, or sell any single-use foam polystyrene or polystyrene service ware, denoted by recycling identification code 6 (PS).

In an additional and welcome caveat to the ordinance, Culver City businesses now must first ask if you want cutlery before simply throwing in plastic utensils with your take-out food. This idea works hand in hand with Heal the Bay’s Rethink the Drink campaign—coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

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Ballona Creek Renaissance lead the charge on this effort, with multiple Surfrider chapters reliably showing up in force over the nearly year-long endeavor. Our own Gnarly Beach Cleaner, Michael Doshi, was consistently there for the countless council and sustainability sub-committee meetings, while recent Heal the Bay Super Healer award winner, environmental science educator, and Team Marine leader at Santa Monica High School Benjamin Kay was present to seal the deal on Tuesday, April 11 right before midnight.

If there was one loser in this endeavor it would have to be impromptu beach parties.  Starting in November, “No [Culver] City business shall sell polystyrene coolers.” So in light of this, Heal the Bay recommends you simply do not procrastinate in the planning of those.

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UPDATE: 4:14 p.m., Nov. 10, 2016:

While California waits for the last 3 million mail-in votes to be counted, it is projected by a number of influential media outlets that Proposition 67 will PASS! Once the Secretary of State declares the results official, the plastic bag ban will go into effect immediately. This makes California the first state to pass a comprehensive ban on single use plastic bags. As the nation looks to California as a progressive environmental leader, we hope that our hard-fought, grassroots-led victory inspires other states to enact a bag ban of their own.

We’re grateful for the passionate, powerful coalition of environmental groups, community leaders, and dedicated volunteers, without whom this victory simply wouldn’t have been possible. 

For the latest Prop 67 results coverage, check out the Sacramento Bee and New York Times.

Nov. 9, 2016 — Tova Handelman, Heal the Bay’s Coastal Resources Coordinator, dives into the election results and finds some treasures worth celebrating.

So much has happened in the last 24 hours. The dust has yet to settle from the presidential and state elections. Through the haze, it can be hard to see the long, grueling path that led us here. Even more uncertain is what the road ahead looks like for the country, and its environmental progress.

Well before the primaries and up until yesterday, Heal the Bay – alongside our incredible partner organizations, and fueled by dedicated members like you – led efforts to enact some real environmental change locally and across California during this election season. We advocated for several propositions and city measures before, and are truly proud to see the results of our efforts this time. This campaign season has given us a lot of firsts–some good and some downright puzzling. But we are proud to say that this is the first time we’ve seen such across-the-board success for the environmental measures we worked so hard to endorse.

Let’s take a look at some key environmental measures on the ballot–and what will happen next:

Measure A: PASSED!

A big victory with a huge margin, Measure A passed with 73.5% of the Los Angeles vote. This means that an annual parcel tax of 1.5 cents per square foot of development will generate approximately $94 million per year. This money will go directly to local communities to protect, enhance, and maintain our local parks, beaches, and open spaces.

Measure M: PASSED!

Sick and tired of traffic and its effect on air quality in Los Angeles? You’re not alone: Measure M passed overwhelmingly with nearly 70% of the vote – well over the two-thirds share it needed to pass. Measure M adds a half-cent sales tax and extends the existing half-cent increase passed in 2008 with Measure R. This tax will generate $120 billion over 40 years to fund major extensions to subway lines, including a line under the Sepulveda Pass to connect the San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles.

Measure CW: PASSED!

Residents of Culver City voted to create a dedicated funding source in the form of a parcel tax to pay for water quality programs that will prevent pollution in our waterways, beaches, and the Ballona Creek Estuary. The tax is expected to generate $2 million per year, and all money will be used in Culver City to reduce water pollution. This will ultimately help to improve water quality in Santa Monica Bay!

Proposition 65: FAILED!

Try as they might, the plastic bag manufacturing companies behind Prop 65 couldn’t trick us into undoing California’s plastic bag ban. This proposition was intentionally vague to confuse voters by thinking they were voting for an environmental fund, when the fine print actually said the bag ban would be overturned should Prop 65 pass. Thanks to our tireless volunteers and incredible efforts from partner organizations, we were able to get the word out and educate voters on the issue. Looks like Californians do their homework, because we are now one step closer to banning plastic bags from grocery stores statewide.


Heal the Bay has been working for years to eliminate plastic pollution from our waterways and beaches. Two years ago, we rejoiced when SB270 passed, making California the first state to ban plastic grocery bags. The plastic bag manufacturers didn’t take the news well, however, and spent over $6 million to get the bill back on the ballot as a referendum in the form of Prop 67. Our volunteers spent long days at tabling events and long nights phone banking to encourage voters to uphold our statewide plastic bag ban, and it seems like their efforts paid off. The polls are too close to call just yet, but the projections are promising. Once the final verdict is called, the plastic bag ban will go into effect immediately at grocery stores, pharmacies, and liquor stores across the state. Paper bags will still be available for 10 cents. Over 660 ocean species have been found to ingest or become entangled in plastic pollution, so a statewide ban is a HUGE victory for the environment–and ocean animals.

Though it is unclear what will play out nationally, there is one thing you can certainly count on: Heal the Bay will continue to fight to protect what you love. Supported by thousands of ocean-loving Angelenos and guided by sound science, we will press on to advance local, regional, and statewide environmental policies and educate the next generation of ocean advocates.

Thanks to you, we won so much yesterday. And with your help, we will continue fighting, stronger than ever, for a cleaner, healthier, bluer Los Angeles.

Sept. 17, 2016 — There are 8 million stories in the trashy city on Coastal Cleanup Day. Here is one of them from Heal the Bay’s communications director, Matthew King.

Heading down PCH to infamous Lunada Bay this morning, I really didn’t know what to expect.

To Southern California surfers, this idyllic cove in Palos Verdes Estates is infamous for being home to the Bay Boys, a group of largely middle-aged locals accused of using vigilante-like tactics to scare away visitors. These self-appointed regulators sit on the bluffs and regularly block access to the beach, according to a recently filed federal class-action lawsuit, all in the name of keeping some of L.A.’s best waves to themselves.

After years of hosting cleanups up and down the Palos Verdes Estates, Heal the Bay decided to host a site at Lunada Bay in concert with city staff for this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day. Leading up to the cleanup, I hadn’t given the site much thought. Then I received a few media enquiries asking about the Bay Boys and if we expected any trouble or were taking any safety precautions.

It all seemed a bit alarmist to me. But I do have some family history at Lunada Bay that gave me some pause. Last fall, my high school son and his friends – unbeknownst to me – decided to hike down to the cove to watch the sunset. They came back to find the tires slashed on their car.

Channeling the sage words of my colleague Meredith McCarthy, I assured the journalists that cleanups tend to bring out the best in people. We didn’t expect any trouble, I said (and hoped).

As usual, Meredith was right.

Volunteers climbing down to Lunada BayI spent a beautiful morning with about two dozen volunteers at Lunada. The only intimidation I felt this day was figuring out how to navigate the twisting, semi-treacherous path to the beach without falling on my butt. And the only locals I crossed paths with were an adorable group of girls volunteering from Lunada Bay Elementary School across the street. They weren’t too menacing.

The rocky shoreline is thankfully free of the micro-trash that plagues most Southland beaches: cigarette butts and whatnot. The biggest haul came from beer cans and plastic water bottles chucked carelessly from the bluffs. An intrepid group of Palos Verdes High students scurried up the cliffs like billy goats to retrieve trash, while their proud mothers beamed on the beach. The group was part of the Los Hermanos Black club, which organizes volunteer opportunities for mothers and their teen-aged sons.

Including the Lunada volunteers, the Cleanup Day crew in L.A. County totaled 9,556 people at 48 inland and coastal sites. Participants hauled in 29,635 pounds of ocean-bound debris. This year’s group collected nearly 30% more trash in L.A. County than last year’s volunteers. (You can view that as either a positive or negative, I suppose!) Among the items found: a switchblade knife, a flight-deck crew vest from an aircraft carrier, two old TVs, three syringes, nine shopping carts and one human-sized teddy bear on the sands of Long Beach.

A couple of volunteers at Compton CreekOn my way home, I detoured to another one of my favorite sites — Compton Creek, a largely forgotten gem in the necklace of green spaces along the L.A. River.

This tributary is one of the few soft-bottomed portions of the largely channelized L.A. River. A half-mile stretch of lush vegetation sits hard against the Crystal Hotel and Casino, surrounded by concrete and the 91 Freeway. The creek is choked with trash and polluted runoff fouls its waters, but life miraculously thrives here. Turtles scour the muddy bottom, while herons alight in the brush, looking for tiny morsels.

Nearly 100 volunteers donned gloves and trudged through the boggy waters, hauling out a depressing mix of fast-food wrappers, plastic bags and food packaging. To be honest, if I were a volunteer I would view collecting all that trash as a Sisyphean task. I’d wonder if I had made a dent. We could’ve sent 1,000 people to that spot today and we still wouldn’t have been able to remove all the annoying bits of chip bags and Styrofoam containers ground into the creek bank.

Yet participants remain so optimistic. A Filipino service fraternity called Alpha Phi Omega sent a squadron of volunteers to Compton this morning. One gentlemen, with a full bag of trash, smiled broadly as I approached him. Seeing my Heal the Bay T-shirt, he thanked me.

After participating in dozens of cleanups in my tenure here, it’s easy to get blasé sometimes. I wonder what in the world motivates people to get up on their Saturday off and pick up trash for nothing. I know we absolutely cannot function without our volunteers, but his smile reminded me that we give as much as we get by organizing Coastal Cleanup Day. Volunteers leave feeling hopeful, feeling good about themselves and their communities.

Meredith was right … again.

Check out the photos of Coastal Cleanup Day sites all over L.A. on our Flickr album.

And a special thanks to this year’s sponsors: Cancer Treatment Centers of America, City of Culver City, City of Santa Monica, California Coastal Conservancy, Disney, KTLA 5, L.A. County Public Works, and Union Bank!

September 16, 2016 — There’s a record-breaking number of propositions on California’s general election ballot this year. We created this voter guide to help make your trip to the polls as painless as possible. On November 8 (or earlier, if you’re voting by mail), cast your votes with confidence and remember to Vote Blue!

Heal the Bay's 2016 Voter Guide


Proposition 67: A vote to uphold the ban on single-use plastic carryout bags in California.

The issue: California became the first state in the nation in 2014 to enact plastic bag ban legislation through SB 270, which prohibits grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies from distributing single-use plastic bags, and requires stores to charge a minimum of 10 cents for paper bags. The plastics industry has spent more than $6 million in attempt to overturn California’s plastic bag ban by delaying its implementation by placing this item on the November ballot.

The stakes: Designed for minutes of use, plastic bags do not break down in the environment, and pose a large threat to aquatic life. Over 663 species of marine life have been impacted by ingestion of or entanglement in plastic pollution. By 2050, scientists project that plastic pollution will outweigh fish in our oceans. These lightweight plastic bags also blight our communities and are costly to clean-up. California spends up to $107 million each year managing plastic bag litter.

Our recommendation: Cast your ballot for cleaner beaches and neighborhoods. Vote YES.


Proposition 65: A rival measure to Prop 67 funded by Big Plastic. 

The issue: Prop 65 will deliver little for the environment. It was placed on the ballot by out-of-state plastic bag companies who keep interfering with California’s efforts to reduce plastic pollution. Prop 65 is designed to distract from the environmental priority of defending the state’s plastic bag ban. All Prop 65 would do is direct money from the sale of paper bags to a vaguely defined environmental fund administered by the state.

The stakes: The sole purpose of Prop 65 is to confuse voters. It would only serve the interests of plastic bag companies and would distract from phasing out plastic bags entirely. Prop 65 also fuels the tired paper vs. plastic debate. The real issue is reducing the overall use of single-use bags – be they paper or plastic.

Our recommendation: Prop 65 is a smoke screen. Vote NO.


Measure A*: Safe, clean neighborhood parks and beaches measure of 2016.

The issue: Measure A asks voters to continue their support for local parks, beaches, open space, and water resources by approving an annual parcel tax of 1.5 cents per square foot of development. If approved, the estimated tax for the owner of a 1,500 square foot home will be $22.50 per year, and will be included on the annual property tax bill.  Generating approximately $94 million per year for our local parks, beaches, and open space areas, Measure A will replace expiring dedicated funding from the voter-approved Propositions A of 1992 and 1996.

The stakes: For more than 20 years, our communities have relied on local, voter-approved funding from the Los Angeles County Safe Neighborhood Parks Acts of 1992 and 1996 (Proposition A) to protect and maintain our neighborhood parks, outdoor areas and water resources. However, funding from the 1992 Proposition A ended in 2015 and funding from the 1996 Proposition will end in 2019.

Our recommendation: Updating park infrastructure makes our region more resilient. Vote YES.


Ballot Measure CW**: Funding support for stormwater capture and reuse projects in Culver City. 

The issue: Cities in LA County are required by the Regional Water Quality Control Board to manage pollution from urban runoff flowing through their systems. However, since stormwater services, unlike our other essential utilities, have minimal and in some cases no fees to support them, funding for fulfilling these requirements falls far short of the need. Culver City’s ballot measure would establish fees on property owners to support the stormwater projects the City is required by regulation to complete.

The stakes: Urban runoff is the number one source of pollution to our rivers, lakes and ocean. In addition, losing that volume, which can reach millions of gallons even on a dry day throughout LA County, to the ocean is a wasted opportunity that we can’t afford, especially in the midst of a drought. The proposed fee would support projects that would reduce urban runoff pollution from reaching our waterways, and where possible capture and reuse that water.

Our recommendation: Support cleaner waterways and more local water supply. Vote YES.


*Los Angeles County voters only.

**Culver City voters only.


Got election questions? Not sure when/where/how/if to vote? Visit the Secretary of State’s election FAQ page.




Apr. 18, 2016 — Heal the Bay is still feeling the stoke from Saturday’s Earth Month Extravaganza, which saw over 2,000 volunteers and ocean-lovers descend on Santa Monica Beach and our Aquarium to participate in the festivities.

Drum roll, please: Over 1,900 volunteers participated in our Earth Month Nothin’ But Sand beach cleanup this past Saturday, hauling in nearly 500 lbs. of ocean-bound trash! That’s a quarter-ton less trash polluting our coast, fouling our marine habitats, and harming wildlife. It was a tremendously good turnout for a hot day, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who showed up early on a Saturday morning to join us.

We’re also grateful for our partners who made the day possible. After all, it wasn’t just a beach cleanup, but a whole day of festivities, including free yoga, surf lessons, public programs at the Aquarium, and a sandcastle-building competition!

CorePower Yoga for providing free yoga on the beach and some great monthly passes
YogaSmoga for donating yoga apparel gift certificates
AquaSurf for providing free surf lessons
Starbucks for providing free coffee in reusable mugs
The North Face for bringing lots of volunteers and schlepping tons of stuff
HOK Product Design for facilitating the Sandcastle Competition
Montalba Architects, Tangram Interiors, DPR Construction, and Syska and Hennessy for building incredible sandcastles
Nicci Solomons, Justin Grant, and Bruna Schmitz for serving as our celebrity sandcastle judges
The Sock Panda (aka Jonathan Howard and Charlene Mayo) for donating fun socks to Aquarium visitors


As Earth Month winds down, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on all that we achieved in the last thirty days. Heal the Bay held over 30 outreach events, impacting communities all over Los Angeles including:

DowneySan PedroPasadena
BurbankBeverly HillsSanta Monica
MalibuCulver CityEl Segundo
South GateMonterey ParkLos Angeles
GlendaleNorthridgeDowntown LA
WestwoodWhittierSouth LA
TorranceVeniceManhattan Beach
West Hollywood

Additionally, our Speakers Bureau held 34 lectures and there were 5 Corporate Healer Beach Cleanups! And we’ve added more than 750 pledges to uphold the Plastic Bag Ban! Much thanks to everyone for making this month such a success!

Thank you, everyone, and happy Earth Month to all!

Earth Month Extravaganza with Heal the Bay

On Sunday, May 3, over 35 L.A.-area middle and high school students converged at a Heal the Bay-organized Youth Summit in Culver City to brainstorm drought-busting and water conservation strategies. The Summit was expertly coordinated by Programs Associate Jenn Swart, who has recapped the inspiring event below.  

We’ve all heard about the drought. Whether it’s on TV, the radio or in the newspaper, the drought has got people talking about California’s water woes. But how do we know we are in a drought? Our taps are not regulated, we can take showers for as long as we’d like and the trees on our streets seem to be doing just fine.

This spring’s Youth Summit explored the nuts and bolts of California’s drought, with a specific focus on how young people can tackle such a complex challenge. The participants, ranging from 6th to 12th grade, gathered at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex in Culver City to get informed about where our state’s water comes from, why our water supply is at risk, and what they can do to help.

The “Water 101” workshop explored where our tap water comes from and how we use (or misuse) it once it reaches our faucets. Beyond “washing our dishes in the shower” and “going to the bathroom outside,” students were able to come up with concrete ways in which they could minimize their demand on our always precious and increasingly scarce reserves of water. We also explored the environmental impacts of bottled water, ranging from its contribution to ocean acidification due to the carbon-heavy manufacturing process to its leading role in making up the mostly-plastic Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Using the dissuasion from drinking bottled water as an entry point, the summit also uncovered ways in which students could actively get involved with water issues at their schools. Students rotated through short workshops on how to gather data regarding the availability of and perceptions toward the drinking fountains at their schools–many of which are either non-functional or scarce in number. Through administering surveys, taking inventories and reaching out to their classmates and teachers, Heal the Bay hopes summit participants use their “campaign toolkits” to advocate for more drinking fountains and reusable bottle refill stations in their schools. We’ll be keeping in touch with participants over the next few months to see how their campaigns are going, and how Heal the Bay can help.

It was exciting and inspiring to see these young activists so “tapped” in to such an important issue!

Want to get involved in other youth-centric events hosted by Heal the Bay? Contact Jenn Swart!

Heal the Bay's 2015 Youth Summit

Scenes from the summit

With St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday, we’d like to thank those of you who help us “green” Los Angeles and our planet. It’s gratifying to know we’re in this together!

Thank you to the Santa Monica City Council for unanimously voting to support the Earth with the Santa Monica Sustainability Bill of Rights. The law recognizes that “residents of Santa Monica possess fundamental and inalienable rights to: clean water from sustainable sources; marine waters safe for active and passive recreation….”

We’d also like to thank the staff at the Mayme Clayton Library in Culver City for hosting our Earth Month Youth Summit. Students from six local schools, including groups from Dorsey and Crenshaw high schools, came out last Saturday to learn about “greening” their campuses and communities. Big thanks to Alison Jefferson, Rick Blocker and Rusty White who came to the summit to discuss the documentary White Wash, which chronicles the history of black surfing.

Special thanks go to Patagonia’s Santa Monica store, which recently awarded us a grant to help sustain our marine debris work.

Also, a “green” Thank You Thursday would be incomplete without green crayons! Thanks to California Pizza Kitchen on Wilshire Boulevard for donating green crayons (and other colors too) for visitors to our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. (Heal the Bay’s Aquarium staff would also like to thank CPK for feeding them a delicious lunch last week.)

Meanwhile, we’d also like to thank Golden Road for donating libations to our Tank event at the Aquarium a few weeks ago. We look forward to working with you to “green” L.A. in the coming months.

Go “green” this weekend by volunteering with our monthly cleanup Nothin’ But Sand.

 “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

― Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

We know that billions of single-use plastic bags are used in Los Angeles every year, and that the majority of single-use plastic bags – even if reused once or twice by consumers – end up in our landfills or as part of the litter stream, polluting our inland and coastal communities and wasting taxpayer dollars on cleanup costs.

Los Angeles, we are at a tipping point when it comes to tackling the scourge of plastic bag pollution.

On May 23, 2012, the Los Angeles City Council voted to move forward with drafting an ordinance that would ban single-use plastic bags and place a charge on paper bags at grocery stores and select other retailers throughout the City. The Bureau of Sanitation recently released its draft Environmental Impact Report (PDF) for public review and comment; comments are due on March 11, 2013. It is our hope that the City Council will vote on the ordinance later this spring.

If adopted, Los Angeles will be the largest city in the United States to approve a single-use bag ordinance, and its passage will send a clear message to the rest of the state (and country) that addressing plastic bag waste (and by implication, our disposable consumer culture) is an idea whose time has come.

In fact, once passed, Los Angeles will join the company of 65 California counties and cities that have banned plastic bags, including many jurisdictions in SoCal. And by the looks of it, that number is set to grow; City Councils in Sacramento, Culver City and Huntington Beach, among others, are currently engaged in discussions about whether to enact their own single-use bag ordinances. The idea of reducing the economic waste and environmental impacts associated with single-use bag litter has even spread to the California statehouse where State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and State Assembly Member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) have introduced bag bills.

But first we have to reach the tipping point by passing the Los Angeles bag ordinance. Stay tuned for more information about the City Council’s final vote later this spring and how you can get involved! Follow us on Twitter to stay-up-to-date.

Want to help reduce marine debris? Join one of our cleanups!

Stay engaged with Heal the Bay as we head toward the finish line in Los Angeles.

I’m a patient woman, but I’ve had enough.

I realize I will never get back the countless hours I’ve spent in stuffy, over-crowded public hearings listening to endless complaints from California dischargers. I realize some dischargers might actually believe that upholding the federal Clean Water Act and implementing basic water quality protections in their community will bankrupt their cities or industry.

But ongoing public hearings about determining appropriate storm water pollution limits for Los Angeles County’s 84 cities have set a new low for wheel-spinning and economic fear-mongering – all at the expense of clean water for the region’s nearly 10 million residents.

Many of the cities regulated in a soon-to-be-released updated municipal stormwater permit came out to plead poverty due to water quality regulations at last month’s meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. After months of debate, the board will issue the new permit this Thursday.

So what was all the fuss about?

Basically, any city that discharges water into the storm drain system, and ultimately the ocean, must abide by the regulations issued by the Regional Board as part of its permitting process. The rules require cities to implement different practices in their jurisdictions to ensure that their runoff doesn’t pollute local waterbodies. Examples of these requirements include building and maintaining trash capture devices at stormdrain outlets to ensure that debris doesn’t find its way into creeks, rivers and the ocean. Many of these requirements are basic practices, such as street sweeping, needed to maintain a healthy city aesthetic (permit or no permit).

During public hearings about the new permit, a long line of city managers came to the podium to relay dramatic stories of looming library closures and staff layoffs — all due to being compelled to implement water quality protections. They all urged the Regional Board to weaken existing and proposed limits.

Most notably, a city official from Vernon lamented that these proposed regulations would force his city to lay off 30-plus employees. Yes, you read that correctly – Vernon, the city that made headlines for lavishing huge salaries on top city officials. The city of 90 or so residents bankrolled million-dollar salaries and first-class air travel for its top managers. But now it can’t afford to keep its runoff free from metals, harmful bacteria and other pollutants before heading to the L.A. River and out to the beaches of Long Beach?

As Director of Water Quality at Heal the Bay, I work to convince decision-makers that our local waterbodies are well-worth protecting. It’s simple economics. Investing in clean water now will pay dividends for years to come. Nearly 400,000 jobs in Los Angeles County are ocean-related, responsible for $10 billion annually in wages and $20 billion in goods and services.

We’re a First World region, and we should have basic regulatory policies that reflect our commitment to clean water. Do we really want tourists coming to visit Los Angeles beaches and returning home with an illness after swimming in water polluted by urban runoff? Do we really want local resident feeding their family locally caught fish that contains DDT or PCB levels well above protective thresholds? Yet, the cities’ continued lobbying to weaken existing pollution requirements – and the board’s apparent willingness to consider their pleas – raises these troubling questions.

Waiting to testify at these protracted hearings, I often wonder how much truth there is in city managers’ assertions that spending on pollution prevention will perilously drain their coffers. So in advance of the October Regional Board hearing, our policy team did some digging that revealed this troubling fact: To curry favor with the Regional Board, a number of cities seem to be over-representing the amount of money that they are spending each year on complying with the permit.

Each year the cities must report to the Regional Board the actions they have taken to comply with the permit and the costs of implementation. We took a closer look at the reported expenditures in these Annual Reports to the Regional Board. In the latest release, we noticed a big red flag: the total spending on stormwater programs in 2011-12 by the 84 regulated cities and County was projected to increase 172% (237% when price adjusted) from the previous year. Such a dramatic increase in a single year is particularly glaring, given that overall stormwater spending since 2006 has decreased every year when price adjusted.

For example, Lynwood reported to the Regional Board that it would spend $10,679,915 more on stormwater projects in 2011-12 than it did the previous year –a fivefold increase. That kind of jump doesn’t pass the sniff test — $10 million in spending would equal more than 10% of the city’s entire annual budget. Lynwood may be doing some good work with stormwater pollution controls, but the reported numbers just didn’t seem plausible when compared to spending projections by cities with similar populations and geographic area.

As a next step, we took a sample of cities that showed the greatest single-year increase in proposed expenditures: Culver City, Diamond Bar, Lynwood, and South Pasadena. Comparing the four cities to other Los Angeles County cities with similar populations, land area and land area per capita, we continued to notice major discrepancies.

For example, South Pasadena projected to spend $28,697,450 to comply with the permit in 2011-2012, whereas Agoura Hills with a similar population size projected only $513,550 in spending. We simply can’t believe that South Pasadena is more vigilant about stormwater than Agoura Hills by a factor of 55. Comparing cities with similar geographic areas, South Pasadena projects to outspend San Marino, its nearby neighbor, by over $28 million.

To get to the bottom of this discrepancy, we examined the actual approved city budgets for cities in our sample. In the annual budget for Lynwood, managers claim to have had a storm water budget of $237,432 in 2010-11 and $313,140 in 2011-12. However, the numbers reported to the Regional Board were $2,308,085 and $12,988,000, respectively. We saw similar abnormalities in other cities.

Based on this cursory review, we have reached several conclusions:

  • Some municipalities appear to have mischaracterized their stormwater expenditures in their Regional Board Annual Reports,
  • City budgets and Regional Board-reported stormwater expenditures do not always match, and;
  • These findings call into question the validity of financial complaints made in testimony at the hearings.

Even the board’s staff has uncovered inconsistencies. In a presentation at the October hearing, Executive Officer Sam Unger noted “non-uniformity” in reporting and said “not all costs reported can be solely attributable to compliance with the requirements of the L.A. County MS4 Permit.”

It’s important to note that not all dischargers are manipulating numbers. Many are abiding by the permit and trying hard to reduce their contribution to water pollution. Many city managers work creatively within the constraints of city budgets to create stormwater programs with high impact and relatively low public cost. For example, the City of Los Angeles and Santa Monica passed far-reaching Low Impact Development Ordinances on their own initiative, requiring developers to infiltrate and capture runoff on-site before it heads to the sea.

Unfortunately, many dischargers seem to be making an impact on Regional Board members and staff with their emotional testimony – even if their numbers don’t add up.

The latest version of the permit is a major weakening from a draft issued in June without any sufficient justification. These changes may trim some city budgets, but to what end? Any short-term cutbacks in stormwater investments will maintain the status quo of dirty water and will come at a great cost to our ocean economy and our environment down the line.

As our case studies demonstrate, the Regional Board seems to be responding to a group of Chicken Littles crying disingenuously that the sky is falling due to environmental regulations.

The Regional Board will make a final decision on the permit at its Thursday hearing. I’m sure I’ll hear many more pleas of poverty due to environmental protection. I’m still hoping that the Regional Board will see that light and follow its sworn duty to safeguard our region’s water quality.

Vernon may be having major budgetary problems, but I’m certain they aren’t due to water quality regulations.

– Kirsten James

Water Quality Director, Heal the Bay

Join us November 8 at the public hearing on the revised draft of the stormwater permit.

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Santa Monica Bay scored two big victories Tuesday night in the ongoing fight to keep harmful and unsightly plastic debris from reaching the seas.

The Hermosa Beach City Council decided in a 3-2 vote to ban polystyrene (Styrofoam) food take-out containers at local restaurants. The measure, which came as a recommendation from the Hermosa Beach Green Task Force last September, received broad support from environmental groups, educators, business, and local residents. Mayor Fishman, Mayor Pro Tempore Duclos and Councilmember Tucker all voted for the ban. Hermosa Beach now joins the over 50 California municipalities including Santa Monica, Calabasas and Malibu, in banning some type of polystyrene food packaging. The County of Los Angeles is completing its stakeholder process to evaluate the feasibility of a similar measure for restaurants within its jurisdiction.

Also Tuesday night, the Glendale City Council unanimously directed staff to draft a single-use bag ordinance similar to L.A . County’s policy and begin the necessary environmental review.  The City of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Burbank and Culver City are also considering similar measures. These local initiatives will hopefully encourage state legislators to take action as well in the coming year.

And remember, Dec. 15 is Heal the Bay’s fifth annual Day Without a Bag, in which we encourage local shoppers to forego harmful plastic bags in favor of resuable ones. We will be distributing free bags throughout Los Angeles County. Save the date! More details to come.