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Heal the Bay Blog

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Our work at Heal the Bay wouldn’t be possible without our spectacular volunteers, which is why we threw a fantastic intergalactic-themed party to recognize our most dedicated volunteers: Super Healers.

It was a night filled with awe and wonder, as we flew to the moon and played among the stars, all in honor of our down-to-earth volunteers and partners.

Shout-out to Bodega Wine Bar for hosting the party in February; the food was tasty, the staff welcoming, and the atmosphere was perfect for a game of “Defeat the Death Star” cornhole.

We’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge our volunteer party donors and participants, for the breathtaking photo booth, the liquid nitrogen ice cream, the awesome raffle prizes, and more. Much thanks to Allison SUP Race Fins, ChicoBag, ECOBAGS, GoPro, Ice Cream Lab, Lemonade, Life Without Plastic, Manhattan Stitching, REI, Rip Curl, Rockreation, Sidecar Doughnuts, Snapfiesta, StubHub Center, U Konserve, and Washed Ashore Adornments.

And of course, where would we be without our stellar 2016 Super Healers? These are our most dedicated volunteers, who continually go above and beyond the call of duty. Their commitment is commendable, their dedication and passion for protecting water quality and the environment undeniable.

We’re proud to honor the following outstanding individuals with the prestigious Super Healer Award:

David Coles (Speakers Bureau)

While David was getting his masters in Marine Biology, he came to realize that while he is passionate about nature, he’s not really a scientist (endless data analysis, tedious academic journals, etc. – bo-ring!). However, he learned he loved public speaking. Through Speakers Bureau, he continues to use his Marine Biology training in a format that fits his personality and interests. In fact, he has been a guest speaker at over 30 beach talks and lectures since first joining the program in March 2015! He uses his speaking talents to communicate his love of nature to a diverse audience- to inspire people to care about the ocean. Opening up with video footage of dives he did for his thesis research, he gets the room excited while breaking the ice. David is one of our most consistent volunteers to go into the classroom and educate students and adults alike. He reaches out on the regular to volunteer, and can always be counted on when we ask him for help. David is an exemplary reason that the Speakers Bureau program is so successful, reaching out to 40,000 Angelenos annually. Thank you David, for your passion and commitment, for inspiring ocean stewards for years to come.

Zeph Nowland (Beach Programs)

(Almost) Immediately after flying into LAX from South Korea in 2014, Zeph volunteered for his first Nothin’ But Sand cleanup at Dockweiler Beach, and nothing has been the same since. Although Alys Arenas was yet to be hired as HtB’s nefarious Beach Programs Manager, Zeph still knew in his heart of hearts that he wanted… nay, NEEDED!… to get more involved. One volunteer training later, he emerged as a newly-minted Beach Captain — capital letters and all (but, sadly, no cape or captain’s hat) — ready to help turn the tide (pun!) on pollution. Donning his super HtB t-shirt (because, again, no cape), Zeph tirelessly sets his alarm every 3rd Saturday of the month (except for December, of course!) and helps erect tents, build tables, and direct humans. Yes, he WILL take care of that needle you found. Of course he’s fine picking up that condom you simply cannot touch. But, no, that dead seagull must not be disturbed, nature taking its sweet time to reclaim it once more. Although Zeph mostly enjoys working the supply tent because of the power it brings him, he’s acquired other super powers over the years, assisting where needed, including packing/unpacking the truck at HtB headquarters, giving safety talks, harassing other HtB staff, and holding the coveted raffle jar! His favorite saying? It’s this: “Most of the trash at the beach is coming from somewhere else, so picking up litter in your own neighborhood is like doing a mini beach cleanup every day.” Copyright. Trademark.

Jeri Miller (Wednesday Warriors)

When you think of Jeri Miller, you automatically think of a Wednesday Warrior. Whether she’s inputting those tedious safety waivers or helping bundle cleanup supplies, Jeri’s outgoing spirit always brightens the Large Conference Room on Wednesdays. Her academic background, vocational interest and true passion center around the environment, particularly the marine environment. When she joined the Office Support team in 2015, she was on a break from work and wanted to contribute to an organization she felt was making a difference.  It was here at Heal the Bay, that she felt inspired by the variety of volunteer opportunities, the people and the vibe of the office. To her, the office is such a chill place to be at, yet there is still that buzz generated by a group of people committed to doing what they believe in.  When she’s not helping at HtB, you can catch her volunteering for Reef Check Foundation – she’s since been hired by them on a part-time basis! Her other hobbies include working out, working out, and working out — swimming, walking the beach, going to the gym, riding her beach cruiser everywhere and yoga. When its’ not Wednesdays, she also manages to find time to hang out with friends at any one of the many local Redondo Beach bars and restaurants!

Erin LaBrie (Street Fleet)

Erin was inspired to volunteer with Heal the Bay years ago by her mom, Lollie, who teaches at CSULA and has someone from the organization come speak to her class every quarter. Erin knew she wasn’t quite ready to volunteer in a formal classroom setting, so she decided to join the Community Advocates (Street Fleet) crew in 2014. When she’s out tabling, Erin enjoys the ability to reach out to people and teach them about the small, simple changes that can be made to help protect and preserve our ecosystem. Being part of the Street Fleet crew has allowed her meet other amazing and wonderful volunteers and staff that share their passion and knowledge of the environment with her. When she’s not volunteering with HtB, Erin spends some time with several animal rescue organizations and shelters with adoption events, humane Education programs, fostering, and mentoring new pet parents. She spent part of last year volunteering as a summer camp director working with kids 8-17 as well as mentoring young adults as counselors. Her other year-round volunteering activities include working with people in jails that are trying to get/stay sober. What’s her favorite thing of all when she’s not at work or any community service events? Snuggling and spoiling her 4 dogs.

Mary Billings (Street Fleet)

Mary is one of Street Fleet’s go-to volunteers. Having retired a couple of years ago, Mary knew she wanted to find something where she could make a difference, meet new people and learn new things. As a long-time Hermosa Beach resident, she feels very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place and decided helping Heal the Bay would be a good use of her time. She began her journey as an HtB volunteer by helping phone bank for the campaign to stop oil drilling in Hermosa. Soon after joining the Street Fleet Crew in 2015, Mary realized that she enjoyed talking to all the different people who visit the HtB table at the fairs and events. The other volunteers she tables with are great too. Since becoming a volunteer, Mary has learned so much about LA water. More importantly, she loves that the Heal the Bay staff are always so welcoming. When she’s not volunteering with HtB, Mary also volunteers for an education organization called “Families in Schools.” Their mission is to work with schools to involve parents and communities in their children’s education to ensure lifelong success. She also recently started tutoring ESL through the South Bay Literacy Council.

Ben Kay (Community Leader)

As a high school and college teacher for Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College, Mr. Kay has acted as a longstanding advocate for and steward of the Santa Monica Bay. His involvement with Heal the Bay spans upwards of 10 years, in which time he’s steered his students towards the aquarium, beach cleanups, community eco-events, and youth summits, all while spearheading and mentoring Team Marine and partnering for programs such as Day Without Bag Day, No on O phone banking, STEAM Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, and RETHINK eco-artwork campaign. He’s taken student advocacy to the streets by participating in six SaMoHi plastic bag ban marches, and to the government by bringing students to testify for sustainable solutions at city halls all over LA County and to lobby in Sacramento on Ocean Day. For his unwavering commitment to inspire environmental stewards for over a decade, we are honored to present him with the Super Healer Award for an outstanding Community Leader. Thank you for your service Mr. Kay!

Alexandra "Sasha" Ivanona (SMPA Aquarist)

Sasha was a high school student when she first started as an aquarist intern, and now she is in the middle of her first year at UCLA. I knew she was very intelligent, and participated in 3,000 different extracurricular activities in high school, and that number has only increased, now that she in college. But what is surprising to me is her positive outlook on life. Even though she has gone through some hardships, she always looks on the bright side, like how she had curly hair for a while, how fun the children’s ward of the hospital is, and how she got to go to Antarctica and jump in the ocean afterwards. She is usually very cheerful (after a morning cup of coffee or tea), even when she has a terrible migraine, and may seem carefree, but she is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. She is not afraid to take charge and be the boss (in her own quiet way), and I know she will do great things in the future. So, I want to thank you on behalf of Jose and I, for all that you do for us, my fellow lover of the oxford comma, Sasha. – Akino Higa, SMPA Aquarist

Grace Luis (SMPA Public Programs)

Grace Luis is like the Swiss Army knife of volunteers. She began her volunteer service almost 2 ½ years ago at the Aquarium, and since then has donated over 1,500 hours of time (even with her busy school schedule) in practically every program we offer at the Aquarium. Whether she is helping to train and guide new volunteers, introducing marine science to preschoolers, entertaining delighted birthday kids and their friends with animal presentations and fun stories, or helping to design fun new activities/displays for the Aquarium, Grace has always brought her friendly smile and incredibly funny sense of humor to any situation. We have all joked about locking Grace in the Aquarium after she graduates so she could stay with us forever—she not only donates so much of her time/service; she also shares her dedication, passion and kindness with everyone she meets. Grace exemplifies what we look for in a Super Healer, and we are so honored to work with her each week.

Juan Lopez (SMPA Education)

Juan loves cars.  He builds them, races them and fixes them when they break.  His other passion is the ocean and he matches his same love of cars with the watery world he surfs on, wades in and helps students understand.  This past year we have watched Juan grow from a volunteer, who devoted four days a week to help us teach students about the ocean, to an intern, then summer camp intern and finally as a Key to the Sea Naturalist.  He took the direction we gave him to heart, fine-tuned his deliveries and developed his own teaching style, making him an important part of our education team.  We have the great fortune of working with many wonderful education interns and volunteers, but Juan pushed himself to grow and learn, and always did it with his trademark smile and laugh.  He always steps up when needed and helps the other volunteers grow themselves. Juan has developed so much as an educator, he has found himself teaching at the Roundhouse Marine Studies lab and Aquarium three days a week, yet still comes in to work with us on his free days… a true commitment to educating others about a place that brings him so much joy, the ocean!

Michael Barnes (MPA Watch)

“I simply wanted to do some good and looked for a cause that I cared about. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors & nature so environmentalism was a natural fit for me. In searching for a volunteer opportunity, I looked for an organization that shared my passion, had a track record of community engagement, and who used the majority of their funds for actual programs rather than administrative and fundraising expenses. I found all of this in Heal the Bay. Being outdoors while contributing my small part to positively impacting our beautiful coastlines. I never get tired of the sun (remember I’m from the Pacific Northwest) so when I’m conducting an MPA survey its more than just a survey, its a walk on a nice sunny day 🙂 I also volunteer for Tree People and Habitat for Humanity when I have the time. In terms of hobbies, I enjoy surfing, hiking, and running.”

Brittney Mercado (Advocacy)

Brittney Mercado, a senior at Da Vinci Communications High School, has been passionate about the environment throughout her life. She knows that it is her future at risk and the only way to make a difference is to let her voice be heard. She did just that by coming to our advocacy training session, and then used her voice to spread information about the Yes on Prop 67 campaign. She organized her friends to call people across Los Angeles at our phone banking events and to walk door-to-door in their Hawthorne neighborhood to canvass for the cause. She wrote a fantastic article in her school’s newspaper to inspire her classmates to use their voices as well. She is certainly a great voice for the environment and will set an example for her generation and generations to come.

Ronald Fagan (Development - Donor)

10 years ago Ronald walked into the aquarium and struck up conversation with Nick Fash (Heal the Bay’s Education Manager) about the fact he had just seen a pelican on the pier tangled in fishing line.  This discussion on the impacts that fishing line can have upon our oceans and marine life led to the months long process of designing, constructing and seeking approval from the city and the pier to install 3 monofilament recycling bins on our pier.  He is a contractor who lives nowhere near the coast, and only ventures out to the pier a few times a year but his passion for this project drove him on through multiple design changes and safety checks with the fire department as well as working with the maintenance crew to get them properly mounted with signage.  Over the past 10 years, not only has he made the effort to make sure they are functional, but he continues to send donations for “fishing line recycling”.  Based on the amount of line pulled out over the years, it is clear he has helped save countless animals that would otherwise find themselves entangled in fishing line.

Beatriz Lorenzo (Spanish Outreach)

“I love the ocean and I had such a happy times with my elder son in the aquarium, it made sense to give back in both fronts. The sense of community and the fact that you can make a difference. I thrive by continuously learning new things and I like to surf. I love the ocean in all of its ways, I enjoy sailing, swimming, playing in the sand… going to the beach to stroll or just to look for little creatures (or big!) with my family. I enjoyed the sea salty air and the ever changing shades of blue.”

Patagonia (Business Award)

Patagonia believes in building the best product, causing no unneccesary harm and using business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis. The brand donates 1% of all sales to grassroots environmental causes, and the 4th Street location in Santa Monica has been proud to partner with Heal the Bay all these years.

Erin Selleck (Board Member)

Erin Selleck was first introduced to Heal the Bay through her husband and longtime friend of the organization, Kurt Holland. Kurt is an environmental education consultant and former marine science teacher at Santa Monica Alternative School House. Both avid sailors with a life-long love of the ocean, they took a three year sabbatical and fulfilled a lifelong dream to cruise the oceans in their 41 foot sailboat. Kurt’s passion for the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium was contagious and ultimately led Erin to join the Heal the Bay Board of Directors in 2009.
Since joining the Board, Erin has served on various committees including a seat on the Executive Committee, and serving as Chair of both the Finance and Audit committees. She currently is a member of the Finance Committee, and the Aquarium Advisory Committee, along with Kurt. Through her deep connections and experience in the finance world, Erin has helped guide the organization through some challenging fiscal periods, proven to be an effective fundraiser and has helped us form meaningful, fruitful relationships with potential foundations and donors alike.
Since her recent retirement from a successful 30 year career as a top banking executive, Erin has pursued a portfolio career centered on her other passions, including mentoring and empowering young women. Her deep passion for the ocean and Heal the Bay’s cause, combined with her tireless devotion to motivate and uplift young women have proven to be a positive driving force for the betterment of her community.

Doug Wiita (Jean Howell Award)

When Doug first joined HtB he was working in an office, and was looking for volunteer work that was outdoors. MPA watch perfectly fit the bill. Wanting to spread the word, he later joined Speakers Bureau and started doing outreach. He’s favorite thing is talking about the ocean to kids. Doug retired a year ago, and when not spreading the word for HtB, he spends most of his time doing volunteer work for the American Red Cross.

Leslie Tamminen (Bob Hertz Award)

Leslie Mintz Tamminen is a consultant for Seventh Generation Advisors, a nonprofit environmental organization in Santa Monica CA. She is the Director of the Ocean Program, and in this capacity she facilitates the Clean Seas Coalition nationwide, a growing group of environmentalists, scientists, students, and community leaders pushing states to strengthen laws reducing plastic pollution at its source. Leslie spearheaded Clean Seas Coalition efforts to create and pass California’s SB270 law to ban single-use plastic bags. Formerly, Leslie was a special advisor to Lt. Governor John Garamendi, and the Legislative Director and staff attorney for the California environmental nonprofit organization Heal the Bay, where she was responsible for development and implementation of statewide water quality regulation and legislation, including the first federal pollution limit for trash in an urban river (Los Angeles). Leslie also worked to pass and implement California’s Education and the Environment Initiative, a state requirement for environmental education principles and curricula development in all core disciplines in public schools for K-12. Leslie is currently appointed to California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Environmental Literacy Steering Committee, tasked with implementing the 2015 Blueprint for California Environmental Literacy. Leslie is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California Law Center, and lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband Terry Tamminen.

Check out a few of the many memories from our volunteer party below. Thanks again to our volunteers, and hope to see you there next year. P.S. Our photo booth gallery is available here, with password HEALTHEBAY.

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The environment took a big hit in Washington D.C. this week, writes Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s Vice President. Today, we’re launching the first of three actions you can take to fight back locally. Stay tuned for two more actions in the coming days.

If you’re a scientist or a clean water advocate, it’s hard not to be concerned about recent developments in Washington, D.C. I’ve tried to remain positive. I’ve taken an observational attitude for overheated rhetoric about reining in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hoping it would be more talk than action. I’ve hoped for the not-so-terrible, while preparing for the worse. Unfortunately, these threats are becoming reality.

3 Strikes & Clean Water Is Out

Three big blows have been dealt by the new administration to environmental and public health protections. These actions come from the White House, but their effects will ripple from D.C. to Santa Monica Bay:

Strike 1: Massive cuts to the US EPA budget and workforce.

The administration recently proposed the US EPA budget 2018 plan, which includes funding cuts of 25%, staff reductions of more than 3,000 people, and the complete elimination of funding for beach water quality monitoring across our nation. The impacts here in California will be felt deeply.

US EPA grants help underwrite the weekly sampling and testing of beaches in California, support public health protection against contaminated fish off the Palos Verdes Shelf for under-served communities, our local Santa Monica Bay Natural Estuary Program, and much more.

The administration has said it is committed to promoting clean water and clean air, but these actions demonstrate otherwise. It seems virtually impossible to maintain basic protections, given such deep cuts and job losses.

Strike 2: Weakening of the Clean Water Rule.

This week’s executive order directing US EPA to reevaluate the Waters of the U.S. rule has the potential to weaken clean water and habitat protections for countless streams and wetlands throughout our nation. The Obama administration expanded the definition of what water bodies are afforded protection by the federal Clean Water Act in 2015, safeguarding the drinking water of nearly 120 million Americans.

We have lost over 95% of wetland habitat in the greater L.A. area. With the threat of rolling back wetland protection at the federal level, it is imperative to bolster wetlands protection here in California. The California State Water Board is currently in the process of finalizing a statewide Wetland Policy. Heal the Bay scientists have been actively engaged in this process and we urge the State Board to adopt a strong policy that ensures wetland habitat is meaningfully protected and enhanced throughout our state.

Strike 3: Repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.

This law – enacted late last year under the Obama administration – protects waterways from being polluted by coal mining. The waste is not just toxic to aquatic life, but also poses major community health impacts. Many communities throughout the nation will suffer if these protections are repealed.

Take Action To Protect What You Love

These rollbacks jeopardize public health and economic vitality, both of which depend upon clean water and a healthy environment. But, Heal the Bay and its supporters are not going to remain silent. No matter what happens in D.C., there are concrete steps we can take in our backyard to ensure clean water and vibrant ecosystems.

Here is one simple thing you can do now to protect beach water quality monitoring and other critical environmental and community health programs:

Tell Congress to Maintain EPA Funding



Along the L.A. River, Heal the Bay’s communications director Matthew King comes face to face with our civic shame – our growing homeless population. Fortunately, a solution is at hand on the March 7th ballot in L.A. County: Measure H. #YesOnH

A stocky Latino man rubs the sleep from his eyes. Yawning deeply, he stretches and greets the dawn. Bending over his sink in central Los Angeles, he rubs water through his thick, coal-black hair. He brushes his teeth, gargling loudly as he rinses. He slips into black polyester pants and a starchy white shirt. Jumping onto a beat-up mountain bike, he wobbles off to work.

A ritual like this occurs in thousands of bathrooms each morning, as Los Angeles’ working class comes to life. But this scene unfolded before me in a much more disturbing spot – along the concrete bank of the Los Angeles River, below the intersection of the 5 and 110 freeways.

The man – one of L.A. County’s nearly 50,000 homeless individuals – had turned to the river for basic sanitation. The channelized waterway served as his sink, his latrine.

I watched all this last year, during a live TV news segment I arranged to promote Heal the Bay’s river cleanups. We had arrived at the underpass in darkness, but as morning broke I noticed makeshift shelters wedged between the freeway and the river embankments. A maze of tarp-and-plywood structures resembled a favela in Rio.

A small group of homeless men came to life at first light, scuttling down to the river, like crabs emerging from rocky crevices. After the initial shock, the sight stirred fear, disbelief, and then shame.

Working in the water-quality arena, I wanted to warn the men about washing in the bacteria-filled river. But an uneasy feeling of privilege and futility swept over me. I stayed quiet. It was clear: They simply had no other place to bathe.

Welcome to L.A. – the homeless capital of the United States. Clinging underneath highways, sleeping in underbrush, passed out on doorsteps, roaming parks and beaches, these largely forgotten souls haunt our public spaces and our civic conscience.

The face of homelessness in Santa Monica. Photo taken by permission.

The river camp is at odds with assumptions many hold about the homeless. Colleagues at fellow nonprofit Chrysalis tell me that many homeless individuals are employed. While some people living on the street are mentally ill or drug addicted, most are not. And most would willingly move into permanent housing if Los Angeles had enough resources to serve those in need.

And while many live in the shadows, most homeless hide in plain sight.

On the loading dock of our Santa Monica offices, I frequently see the destitute setting up for the night on cardboard pallets. In the morning, they’re gone, leaving behind a depressing wake of cigarette butts and human waste. During my lunch break, I’ve stepped around bedraggled people sleeping in the middle of a bustling sidewalk. I often hear the terrifying shriek of homeless schizophrenics from my office, shouting senseless profanities to no one and everyone.

The loading dock at Heal the Bay’s offices. Photo taken by permission.

I’ve become calloused to these sights and sounds. Many Angelenos also feel numbed by habituation and helplessness. But the crisis is growing, with a nearly 20% increase in homelessness in L.A. County over the past three years. L.A.’s Skid Row continues to fester into a national disgrace. Did you know Skid Row only represents about 10% of the homeless population in L.A. County? As an L.A. local or tourist will tell you, homelessness is everywhere in L.A. County from San Pedro to San Fernando Valley, and, from Venice Beach to Griffith Park.

Fortunately, a comprehensive solution is at hand – a countywide funding measure to end homelessness for 45,000 individuals and families. On the March 7th ballot, L.A. County voters will be asked to approve Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax increase to provide roughly $355 million for rental subsidies, emergency shelter, mental health and substance treatment, employment services and case management.

Explore the facts about Measure H via a printable fact sheet (PDF): English / en Español

Unlike previous fragmented initiatives, Measure H is driven by 47 specific recommendations housed in an integrated, cross-departmental plan. The county’s housing, public health and mental health units are unified in a manner atypical of the county’s often byzantine bureaucracy. Instead of just dangling keys, this 10-year campaign offers comprehensive services and support to get the destitute off the street. A citizens committee will perform annual audits to ensure money is spent wisely and real-world results are achieved.

Yes, there’s concern about taxpayer fatigue, with Angelenos recently voting to support separate transportation and open-space initiatives via Measure M and Measure A.

Trains and parks are critical, but now it’s time to invest in people.

A spirit of resolve is palpable among the community and business groups supporting the initiative, which includes Heal the Bay. I felt it in the packed, cheering room when the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ballot measure late last year. A wide swath of the county’s elite, from LACMA chief Michael Govan to billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, voiced their support.

Homelessness is foremost a moral issue for Heal the Bay. To be clear, water quality suffers in our ocean and rivers when the homeless lack access to basic sanitation. But our focus is ensuring basic human dignity and access to clean water for all.

Now is the time for everyday citizens to uplift our region’s most vulnerable populations. We can’t wait any longer. It’s easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of initiatives on crowded ballots. But this measure is easy to remember and hard to ignore – H is for humanity.

Measure H can only be implemented if enough people vote Yes on the March 7th ballot.

Will you help us make waves by spreading the word about #YesOnH? It’s simple:

  1. Print this poster (or make your own!): http://bit.ly/votingyesonhbecause
  2. Write in the reason why YOU are voting Yes on Measure H.
  3. Take a picture with your sign OR make a short video telling us why you believe Measure H is the vital solution L.A. County needs to end homelessness.
  4. Share on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #YesOnH.


The new administration ordered funding freezes of EPA grants and contracts yesterday. Communications Director Matthew King examines five ways this directive could harm the Bay.


UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.


These are strange and unsettled times in Washington, D.C. Many conservatives and populists are euphoric about the promise of a new administration, while progressives grow increasingly pessimistic with each passing day.

It’s also safe to say these are strange and unsettled times here in our offices, as we process what the actions of the Trump administration could mean for our work and the Bay.

As a trusted watchdog, Heal the Bay is guided by the best science, not emotion. And when a federal action from the new administration threatens the health and well-being of the Bay, we speak out forcefully.

Well, this week is one of those weeks.

Coming into work yesterday morning, we learned that the new administration had imposed an immediate freeze on grants and contracts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The startling move “threatens to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing,” according to a ProPublica record search.

In all, the U.S. EPA dispenses some $6.4 billion in federal grants each year to support testing, cleanup and remediation initiatives, including several Heal the Bay programs.

Transition officials insist the freeze is merely a pause and allows incoming managers to assess if the programs should move forward. But longtime U.S. EPA employees and seasoned advocates paint a different picture – hiring freezes happen, but grant freezes are unusual and can threaten to disrupt contracted work.

Here’s how one U.S. EPA contractor responded to questions from a stormwater management employee, per ProPublica: “Right now we are in a holding pattern. The new U.S. EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.”

Many questions remain about the EPA freeze, such as how long it will last and which contracts it impacts.

As recipients of nearly $200,000 in yearly U.S. EPA grants, we are rightly anxious. Similarly, many of our partner organizations receive federal funds that power collaborative initiatives with Heal the Bay.

We still have more questions than answers, but here’s a look at our top 5 issues that could be affected by grant freezes:

 

1. Regular Monitoring of Beach Water Quality

Our Beach Report Card provides weekly A-to-F water-quality grades for more than 500 California beaches, protecting millions of oceangoers each year from getting sick. U.S. EPA grants underwrite the weekly sampling and testing of beaches conducted by many county health agencies throughout the state. No money = no testing = no data = no Beach Report Card = compromised public health. We’ve faced this issue with temporary budget reductions in the past, and have scrambled to piecemeal some bridge funds to keep some monitoring alive. But, there is no current plan for the state or other funders to pick up the pieces dropped by EPA if funding for beach programs is slashed.

 

2. Keeping Our Local Streams Healthy

The health of the Bay can’t be separated from the health of the waters that feed it. Fully functioning and thriving creeks, streams and rivers provide numerous environmental benefits – habitat, improved water quality and recreational space. U.S. EPA grants to our Stream Team program fund our staff scientists’ ongoing monitoring and education efforts along the L.A. River. Programs, like U.S. EPA’s Urban Waters Grant programs are specially designed to support restoration and protection of the important waterways that flow through communities in places that are most in need of open and natural space. Loss of programs like these is particularly devastating for L.A.

 

3. Protecting Our Dwindling Wetlands

L.A. has already lost 95% of its coastal lagoons. With climate change and urbanization encroaching on our few remaining wetlands, it’s critical we act now to defend critical habitat. Through its National Estuary Program, the U.S. EPA funds work to coordinate protection and restoration of important habitats throughout Santa Monica Bay, like Ballona Wetlands and coastal dunes. Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s vice president, serves as a Vice Chair of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission Governing Board, the state partner of the National Estuary Program. Without this Commission, protection and revitalization of habitats and water quality in the Santa Monica Bay would be seriously hamstrung.

These are essential initiatives for the long-term health of the Bay and Southern California. Freezing or cutting back on these programs would truly be pound foolish.

 

4. Getting Rid of DDT in the Bay

Many people don’t realize that the Bay is home to an EPA Superfund site – a tag applied to some of the nation’s most dangerously polluted sites. A 180-acre swath of ocean floor off Palos Verdes is the world’s largest deposit of the pesticide DDT, the legacy of chemical dumping in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The EPA’s decades-long plan to clean up this mess should not be in limbo, because a legal settlement requires it to be cleaned up to protect animal life and people alike.

 

5. Preventing the Unsafe Consumption of Locally Caught Fish

Most fish caught in Santa Monica Bay are safe to eat. Some species, however, are contaminated with toxic levels of DDT, PCB and mercury. Thanks to an EPA grant, our award-winning Pier Angler Outreach team has canvassed local fishing spots and directly warned nearly 150,000 people about what fish are dangerous to eat in a variety of languages from Tagalog to Spanish. Because this is contract work required under a legal settlement, it is buffered against today’s freeze.


These grant and contract freezes are part of a set of bigger concerns. The new administration has begun to advance real threats to roll back clean water programs and regulations that protect public health; offer habitat protections for wetlands and streams that buffer communities from climate change impacts and safeguard wildlife; and many other important environmental achievements. Muzzling its agencies from communicating about their important work and the status of our environment also does a huge disservice to the public, keeping Americans in the dark about important research findings and the state of environmental resources.

In the coming days, we promise to share more information about changes at the U.S. EPA as we receive it. And as concerned as we are about the actions of the past few days, we remain on high alert for the realization of any roll-backs of federal regulations that have been discussed, which may impact California. If you care about these issues, now is the time to make your voice heard. Contact your representative to urge them to protect important environmental policies and programs. We will also soon be posting an Action Alert that will allow you to urge policy makers to maintain strong EPA funding for vital programs that affect the Bay. Stay tuned.

While we strategize on a more formal response to this week’s funding freeze, we encourage you to consider a donation to help support our work to protect the Bay.



Dec. 16, 2016 — Once again, rain is falling throughout the Los Angeles Basin.

Angelenos are expected to experience heavy rainfall during winter months. This weekend’s storm is predicted to generate an inch or two of precipitation throughout the basin, with some areas receiving as much as four inches.

How much water is that?

The County of Los Angeles estimates that during a typical storm event upwards of 10 billion gallons of storm water flushes into the ocean. That’s enough to fill nearly 120 Rose Bowls. Thinking about it another way, 10 billion gallons would provide enough water for a city the size of Santa Monica for more than three months.

Dang, that is a lot of water! Wait… Aren’t we in a drought?

Why are we letting this precious water resource flow into the ocean without trying to capture it? That is odd given we Angelenos import nearly 80% of our potable (safe to drink) water.

What a waste.

Our historic single-use approach to water has long shaped our hydrologic infrastructure, yet the non-use of large quantities of storm water is wasteful. In case you didn’t know, the gutters and catch basins at the end of almost every street in Los Angeles drain to a local river, stream, or creek, and ultimately out to the ocean.

More galling than the opportunity cost lost from not capturing rainwater and instead allowing it to flow out to sea, is the actual cost incurred from these events.

The usual, depressing detritus littered Santa Monica beaches after the recent storm.

The usual, depressing detritus littered Santa Monica beaches after the recent storm.

Almost every storm event brings physical debris, mostly plastics, to our rivers, creeks, and oceans. In addition, poor water quality after a rainstorm can make rivers and oceans unhealthy for aquatic organisms and recreational users.

In Los Angeles County alone, there are more than 70 major outfalls that spew trash, animal waste, pesticides, automotive fluids, and human-gastrointestinal viruses into our county’s bodies of water. This urban micro-brew of pollution can accumulate in just a couple days on sidewalks and roadways – 12 million people in a highly urbanized landscape – before being washed into the storm drains after a rain event.

The storm drain system is responsible for discharging this pollution into our rivers, creeks, and ocean. This causes potential human health risks, harms marine life, and dampens the tourist economy by littering shorelines.

The more we know, the better the flow.

Rainwater runoff can be captured for future use, whether we are in a drought or not.

Water literacy is a way of understanding the connections between the drought and imported drinking water, local storm water runoff and sewage, land-use and flooding, water quality, and water use.

Rain provides an ideal opportunity to explore water scarcity.

As individuals, we must reflect on our daily water consumption, our own ability to conserve and capture water, and evaluate with a critical eye the systems that handle water. Let the rain hit you, let it revitalize your thoughts on water, and then let’s begin to learn how to use it more efficiently.

Tips for Angelenos after rain storms:

  • 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. In some locations and for long-duration rainstorms, staying out of the ocean for more than five days may be more appropriate.
  • Know the flow. Test your water knowledge, and share insights about rainwater runoff and where Los Angeles gets its water in your community.
  • Be a responder. Heal the Bay’s volunteer Storm Response Team goes on scene at local beaches after big storms to remove the nasty debris flushed from across Los Angeles before this waste ends up in the ocean. Get alerts for more info.


Dec. 7, 2016 –Dr. Katherine Pease, Heal the Bay’s wetlands scientist, takes the wraps off a new website to guide the restoration of L.A.’s few remaining wetlands.

In April 2015, Heal the Bay, along with partners Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Surfrider Foundation, and Los Angeles Waterkeeper, released a comprehensive, scientific set of principles for wetland restoration projects in Southern California.

Now that greater Los Angeles has lost 95% of its coastal wetlands, a concerted effort to protect the remaining 5% is critical for the overall health of our region. Using a science-based approach, the coalition has developed clear guidelines to support the restoration of such key ecosystems as the highly degraded Ballona Wetlands in Playa del Rey.

Besides providing habitat for animals, wetlands help buffer against climate change, provide much-needed open space, and act as natural water-purification systems.

Nine other organizations signed on in support of those guidelines. Since then, we have shared our principles with the California Coastal Commission, the California Fish and Game Commission, elected officials, and the public at our “Meet the Wetlands” event in July 2016. Now we are hitting the web!

The coalition has created a website to showcase our collective Principles of Wetland Restoration. We have shared the site with the nine groups that signed on to the principles as well as with local wetlands experts; their constructive feedback has been instrumental in the website development. Individuals and organization can sign on in support of the Principles.

The website will serve as an additional tool for educating the public, as well for advocating for the restoration of Southern California’s remaining wetlands. We expanded on the pithy principles and gave examples of each principle in practice. We also compiled a list of restoration projects that have implemented a majority of the principles we believe are necessary for a successful and comprehensive project.

Looking forward, we are eagerly awaiting the long-delayed release of the plans (draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report) for the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands, expected from the state’s Department of Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers sometime next year.

We will use this website to educate elected officials and the public about the need for scientific and comprehensive wetland restoration projects that bring back functioning ecosystems. We look forward to seeing the principles in action at Ballona and beyond.

If you support the restoration of Southern California’s wetlands, read more about the Ballona Wetlands and sign our petition asking for an expedited EIR release.



Dec. 7, 2016 — The new appointee for EPA administrator raises some red flags for Heal the Bay’s work, says science and policy director Dr. Rita Kampalath.


UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.


Speaking personally, there’s been little to be excited about as news of the presidential transition and new administration appointees has trickled out the past few weeks. But I’ll admit that the optimist in me still held on to a little spark of hope about the ultimate choice for EPA Administrator.

As the person tasked with enforcing our Clean Water and Clean Air acts, the chief sets the tone and priorities for the administration, whose work dovetails with many of our issues on a daily basis. The EPA responds both to immediate crises like the Flint drinking-water crisis, as well as long-term challenges like climate change.

Maybe I wouldn’t be thrilled by the choice, but the appointee would be someone who at the very least believed in the mission of the agency, if not the specific strategies we would prefer. Unfortunately, that spark was extinguished with today’s news of the pick of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to head up the nation’s top environmental agency.

While we didn’t get Scylla it sure seems that we’re stuck with Charybdis. He fought to limit the scope of the Clean Water Rule (Waters of the United States Rule), which sought to bring more waterbodies under the protection of the Clean Water Act. The CWA is the federal regulation that has underpinned Heal the Bay’s major policy gains, such as fighting for strict pollution limits on the L.A. River. Pruitt who has close ties to oil and gas companies, also has been one of the leaders in the fight against environmental regulations that would impact energy and producers. Pruitt is part of a coalition of state attorneys general suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power companies.

With this pick, it’s clear that Heal the Bay’s science and policy staff will have to be more vigilant than ever to ensure that on a local level our natural resources are protected.  Stay tuned.


UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.



Nov. 30, 2016 — After nearly 30 years guiding the influential Friends of the Los Angeles River, Lewis MacAdams has decided to hand over the reins. Here, longtime ally James Alamillo, Heal the Bay’s urban programs manager, reflects on our shared history.

Heal the Bay and the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR) both got their start in 1986, upstart nonprofits focused on grassroots change. The organizations have since matured and have shaped the Los Angeles environmental scene for the past 30 years. As though they were cut from the same fabric, Heal the Bay founding president Dorothy Green and FOLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams both made it their life’s work to protect two iconic landscapes of Los Angeles — the Santa Monica Bay and the Los Angeles River. Mobilizing everyday people, they developed a successful formula to rehabilitate, protect, preserve, and share special places with current and future generations.

The two Los Angeles environmental giants, and their respective organizations, began crossing paths in the early 1990s when the Los Angeles County Flood Control Department and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed raising the walls on the Los Angeles River – an effort known as the Los Angeles County Drainage Area Project, or LACDA.

Both Dorothy and Lewis were so adamant about instituting comprehensive watershed management planning principles to the Los Angeles River and other watersheds, that they formed the Coalition to Restore our Watershed, also known as Un-Pave LA. Over the next six years, they fought the LACDA project to ensure that watershed principals were incorporated into the project’s Environmental Impact Report. Although the LACDA project was eventually built, the process gave birth to yet another organization – the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, a group intent on bringing watershed management principals to public agencies.

Since then, FOLAR and Heal the Bay have collectively worked together to improve the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. Through it all, Lewis has always been part of the process, whether it was supporting volunteer clean-up programs, talking to media, testifying before the Regional Water Quality Control Board on a 401-water quality certifications or a total maximum daily load for trash, reviewing data collection on fishing or swimming, promoting the river’s restoration, or supporting the ARBOR Study.

While the partnership between Heal the Bay and FOLAR will continue, Lewis’ passion for the river will be greatly missed. Heal the Bay is honored to have traveled the Los Angeles River journey with Lewis. We wish him well as moves on to his next endeavor.



Nov. 21, 2016 — Amid all the uncertainty in Washington D.C., Heal the Bay promises to keep a sharp eye on what a new administration means for our local environment, writes Dr. Rita Kampalath, Heal the Bay’s science and policy director.


UPDATE 2/1/17: Today members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted the vote to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A vote will be rescheduled in the coming days. Add your voice to this petition now urging the U.S. Senate Committee to reject Pruitt’s nomination. Tell our elected officials to maintain strong EPA funding for programs that affect our Bays nationwide.


While we’re still celebrating the tremendous wins that the California environment scored in the recent elections, we have been hearing voices of concerns from many Heal the Bay supporters about changes afoot on the national level. After months of campaign rhetoric, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the real-world policies and appointments rolling out from a new leader in the White House.

Given our 31-year role as a staunch defender of our local seas and watersheds, we’ve been paying particular attention to discussions about such topics as the purpose of the EPA and ongoing climate change policy. In my role of heading policy for an organization always guided by the best science, I’ve frankly been dismayed to hear opinions expressed by the new administration on some issues related to our core work. These initial reactions range from mildly concerning to truly alarming, given that some pronouncements are simply at odds with established scientific consensus. As a result, we’re going to be watching what goes on at the federal level closer than ever.

Below are topics our policy team will be keeping an eye on in the coming months as the new administration formalizes its course of action:

Climate change: Despite the consensus of the vast majority of the scientific community that man-made climate change is very real, the issue remains a contentious topic for federal legislators, and a key policy area to watch going forward. The choice of a well-known climate change skeptic as leader of the EPA transition team has been disheartening, especially as Myron Ebell is also mentioned as potentially heading up the agency long-term.

The past few years have seen tremendous progress in the U.S. accepting our responsibility to take action for warming temperatures, highlighted by our ratification of the Paris Agreement last year. The incoming administration has expressed a clear stance on withdrawing the U.S. from this landmark agreement. This is obviously a global issue to be grappled with, but we have been working on climate resiliency with local municipalities for years. Rising seas, erosion, and flooding are very real possibilities on our shorelines in the not-too-distant future. But to fix the problem, we need to admit there is a problem.

Energy: Strongly tied to U.S. actions on climate change are our energy policies in general, which may have additional impacts on natural resources and air and water pollution. Here on the California coast in particular, we’ll be watching out for any policies or actions that may open up our lands, in particular those offshore, to additional oil drilling and fracking. We’ll also look out for actions on recently adopted or still in the works policies such as the Clean Power Plan and mercury standards that seek to tighten standards on a range of air and water pollutants. These obviously have enormous potential impacts on the health of our local waterways and neighborhoods.

Clean Water Act: Last year, the EPA issued the Clean Water Rule (“Waters of the U.S.” rule), which clarified the definition of waters that are protected by the Clean Water Act. Thankfully, this definition recognizes the interconnectedness of waterbodies, and the impact that upstream waterbodies can have on navigable waters, and thus formalized protections for precious water resources such as certain wetlands and tributaries that previously may have been subject to debate. The new administration has made it clear that this rule will be a prime target for elimination.

Funding: Although it may be difficult to abolish entire agencies or programs completely, the power of the purse is no joke. We will be watching to see how funding of agencies, research, and grant programs related to the environment changes under the new administration. Certainly, the billion-dollar restoration plan of the L.A. River put forth by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will now be viewed through a new prism, leaving lingering questions about how the long-gestating project will now move forward.

New regulations: While we’re lucky to live in a state that is pretty consistently a leader in the nation on environmental laws, we’ll be vigilant for any federal regulations put forward that may seek to preempt state laws. While this approach may be beneficial in some instances where the federal law is more protective or establishes consistency among states, we’ll be wary of any attempts to limit the protections we as a state can ensure for our treasured natural resources.

Infrastructure spending: Given the current degraded state of our infrastructure, Heal the Bay supports infrastructure spending and improvements. At the same time, we cannot set up a zero sum game between infrastructure and climate change as the new administration’s 100-day plan suggests. And infrastructure spending must be invested in projects that lead to more sustainable communities and incorporate best management practices in terms of energy and water use.

Heal the Bay was founded on the belief that, like the rights to free speech, equal treatment, to practice whatever religion you choose, and to love whomever you choose, we have a right to an environment that doesn’t pose a risk to our health and well-being. These rights and values are what make America great now! While we, as always, are rooting wholeheartedly for the success and forward progress of our nation, we believe that erosion of any of these rights is absolutely incompatible with any definition of success, and certainly any definition of progress.

Feeling like you want to take action in these uncertain times? We’ve got dozens of volunteer opportunities for you and your family.



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.

Proposition 67: NOT FINAL YET, BUT IT’S LOOKING GOOD!

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.