Headquartered in Santa Monica since 1985, the non-profit environmental organization Heal the Bay uses research, education and advocacy in its mission to make Southern California coastal waters and watersheds, including Santa Monica Bay, safe, healthy and clean. Executive Director Dr. Mark Gold sat down for a cup of coffee with the Mirror’s Steve Stajich.
Mirror: We’ve had two recent sewage spills in Santa Monica Bay, one in January and another on April 30th. In that one regard, are we losing ground?
No. I think we’ve had some sewage spill problems but when we think about how things were when Heal the Bay was first founded, a lot of spills were happening at the local sewage treatment plants and that’s not happening anymore because we’ve rehabilitated, expanded and modernized those plants. What we’re running into here, which is not unique to Southern California, is an infrastructure crisis.
You’re not hearing about it much in the whole state infrastructure bond discussion. Even in that big $40 billion infrastructure bond that everybody is debating from the governor to the legislature, etc., there’s no mention of sewer infrastructure in any of that.
Mirror: So that’s something that you are trying to get?
A lot of people are and I can tell you right now that because there’s such an infrastructure backlog in the state of California, the likelihood of getting sewer infrastructure in there is very slim.
Mirror: I have this quote from you: “We’re halfway to healing the Bay.” What is the end goal, realistically, with this much civilization this close to the water?
I think the angle is that everybody should be able to go to the beach without worrying about coming down with stomach flu. We need a swim-able bay and we should be able to catch the fish in the bay without having to worry about eating too much of it and coming down with cancer. Our beach report card has expanded statewide, and we’ve been at that for about seven or eight years because nobody else in the state was doing that sort of beach water-quality work.
One of the things that we’re working on now that I’m most proud of is the Education and the Environment Initiative, to put environmental education in all schools, K through 12, targeting six million kids in all disciplines. I think [this] initiative will be one of the things that I’m most proud of that Heal the Bay worked on.
Mirror: So you’ll have a stronger consti­tuency for these things in the next generation?
Absolutely. It’s just absolutely critical that the kids that are in school right now are learning about these environmental issues and they can apply everything to help better understand environmental problems so that we have better awareness.
Mirror: Does America need some kind of environmental third political party to get anything done?
Really, I think the big goal that everyone should be focused on is how to make environmental protection a non-partisan issue. And it really should be. There have been economic studies done that have demonstrated that a cleaner, healthier environment helps the economy. And fortunately some moderate LA Republicans completely understand that. But we’re certainly not seeing that on the Federal level at all. Talk to the current generation of kids who are growing up and they’ve never seen anything but partisanship on this issue.
Mirror: What is Heal the Bay looking at right now?
There are a couple of big things to look forward to in Santa Monica this year that are important to the city as well as to Heal the Bay. The City has developed an urban watershed management plan to basically clean up all the polluted run-off that’s coming off our city and polluting our beaches. That’s something that’s a long time coming and we’re very supportive of the City in that effort. It’s also going to give Santa Monica a much greener feel, because the key to reducing storm water pollution is more green space and diverting the runoff to that green space so you infiltrate the water rather than allowing it to go through transportation corridors and picking up pollutants.
Another thing that the City Council is going to see very soon is an ordinance recommended by the City of Santa Monica’s Task Force on the Environment to ban not only just polystyrene but all plastic packaging overall. After 15 years of looking at this issue, the City and the task force have come to the conclusion that a lot of this plastic packaging is just completely non-recyclable. Most of the plastics are ending up in landfills and worse in our rivers and beaches and literally wreaking havoc with marine life and birds in the bay. And that’s just something that has to stop and I think the City is going to finally make a stand on that in the next month or two.