Greasy potato chip bags float in the water at the Hollywood Riviera in Torrance. A jagged-edged broken soda bottle pierces through the sand under the Hermosa Beach pier. A collection of cigarette butts lines the shore in Manhattan Beach.
It is Monday morning in the South Bay, and a nagging hangover besets beaches from San Pedro to Playa del Rey. An army of weekend sunbathers and picnickers has retreated inland for five days, leaving a blanket of trash and debris in its path.
"In the morning, I police the area in front of the tower and clear a corridor for myself," said Dave Tedesco, a lifeguard near the pier in Hermosa Beach. "Most of the problems with lifeguards cutting their feet or getting hurt have to do with trash."
The weekend rubbish toll on South Bay beaches can be brutal. As many as half a million people swarm to the beaches on a busy summer weekend, bringing with them hundreds of thousands of pounds of garbage.
While separate statistics for South Bay beaches are not available, maintenance workers for the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors last year collected over 4,000 tons of garbage from its 31 miles of patrolled beaches, the department reports. About one quarter of those beaches are in the South Bay.
"I don't think all the people who served in World War II could have picked up the mess left on our beaches on the fifth of July," said Dick Gitlin, a spokesman for the department. Gitlin said holiday weekends, particularly long ones like this year's four-day Fourth of July weekend, hit the beaches hardest.
Even with the volume of visitors and debris, county and local officials say that the trash and litter problem--albeit unsightly and annoying at times--is generally under control. Beaches today, they say, are no dirtier than they were five years ago, and some lifeguards--including Tedesco of Hermosa Beach--say they actually may be cleaner thanks to a myriad of cleanup programs.
With limited funds available for beach cleanup in the county, officials have looked to local communities, law enforcement agencies and private donations to assist the 60 full-time maintenance workers in keeping the trash, litter and vandalism manageable.
Last year, more than 3,400 people donated nearly 35,000 hours to the Department of Beaches and Harbors, according to Ken Johnson, who coordinates the volunteer programs for the department. Churches, real estate brokers, chambers of commerce, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and schoolchildren help coordinate cleanup programs or provide manpower for them, Johnson said.
The Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce, for example, sponsors community sweeps of the beaches about three times a year. The program, most commonly identified by its mascot, "Sandy Seagull," strives to involve as many city residents as possible in a one-day intensive combing of the Redondo beaches.
Ernie O'Dell, executive director of the Redondo chamber, said the program is designed more to educate beachgoers about beach etiquette than to collect large quantities of litter.
"It is a promotional thing to get people cognizant of not littering," he said.
In Manhattan Beach, the Chamber of Commerce oversees a litter patrol that is funded by local businesses. About 10 high school students are paid to sweep the beaches for 20 hours a week during the summer. The city receives about $9,000 in donations each year to pay for the program, said Trudy Smart, manager of the chamber.
Some of the money for the Manhattan Beach program comes from RecyCAL, an organization of soft drink bottlers, beer distributors, grocers, recyclers and packaging companies around the state. RecyCAL also pays for a $60,000 county program that employs 25 students in the South Bay.
Under the RecyCAL program, teams of five workers comb the beaches on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays looking for the trash that county maintenance workers do not collect with their trucks. Gitlin, of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors, administers the program.
One team of students works at Dockweiler Beach, two at Hermosa Beach, one at Redondo Beach and one in Torrance. County officials do not provide Manhattan Beach with a team because of the chamber's program there, Gitlin said. The teams began working in late June and will continue through the middle of next month.
Fills a Gap
The RecyCAL program is in its first year, but county officials are hoping that it will become permanent. Gitlin said sanitation employees project that RecyCAL workers will pick up at least 1 1/2 tons of litter this summer between Zuma and the Hollywood Riviera in Torrance. While that tonnage pales in comparison to the 4,000 tons county workers collect, Gitlin said the workers fill a gap in the cleanup routine.