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Watchdog Group Launches Chapter

Environment: Newbury Park man is named Ventura CoastKeeper. He will monitor waterways for pollution.


VENTURA — Environmentalists, ceremonial dancers and a Hollywood celebrity helped launch a new watchdog group Wednesday that vows to keep a protective eye over local waterways and shorelines.

In a wind-swept ceremony on the edge of Ventura Harbor, Newbury Park resident Mati Waiya was named Ventura CoastKeeper. The so-called "aqua cop" will preside over the new group, aiming to educate the public and improve ocean water quality.

Ventura CoastKeeper is the 58th organization under the national WaterKeeper Alliance founded by Robert Kennedy Jr., said Denise Washko, head of California CoastKeeper, an umbrella group. Its launch means the organizations now have a presence in all five coastal counties in Southern California, including chapters in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.

With help from actor and activist Beau Bridges, Waiya christened a 22-foot patrol boat that he will use to cruise Ventura County harbors and river mouths, conducting water tests and responding to residents' calls about pollution.

"We can close our eyes and hope for the best, but then we will deny our children the right to clean water," Waiya told a crowd of about 50 local activists and dignitaries, who huddled and shivered in the chilling wind. "We can't sit back and watch others work."

The organization will tackle several local issues, Waiya said, beginning with water pollution problems at Kiddie Beach at Channel Islands Harbor, farm pesticides and fertilizers in urban runoff, and restoration of the troubled Calleguas Creek watershed.

The privately funded Keeper groups use various strategies to enforce state and federal laws intended to protect rivers, streams, harbors and shorelines. Volunteer-based chapters participate in coastal planning, help solve local and regional water-quality problems and, when necessary, file lawsuits, Waiya said.

Washko said Ventura CoastKeeper's first-year budget is $200,000, which includes two full-time staff members, office expenses and the new boat--a former sheriff's patrol vessel purchased at an Orange County auction.

Start-up funding came from Environment Now, a Santa Monica-based foundation, Washko said, and the rest will come from grants, donations and membership fees. Seventeen members joined the new group Wednesday, bringing the total to 50, said Laura Brands, Ventura CoastKeeper programs director.

State regulators, who are the legal guardians of California's coastline and inland waterways, said they welcome the role groups like CoastKeeper play in the ongoing battle against water pollution.

"Any group or individual who takes steps to ensure and preserve water quality is greatly appreciated," said Myrlys Williams, spokesperson for the California Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento.

Waiya, 44, who grew up in Saticoy and owns a small drywall business, said his interest in environmental causes strengthened as he immersed himself in the culture of the Chumash people, who lived for centuries along the California coast and on the Channel Islands.

Saying he has Chumash heritage on his mother's side, Waiya is the founder of the Thousand Oaks-based Wishtoyo Foundation, which teaches traditional beliefs, stories, songs and dances to children throughout the county.

He met Bridges while telling stories to children at a cultural center in Thousand Oaks, and the two have since become good friends.

"A lot of people are aware of the problems of pollution but they don't know where to put their energy," said Bridges, a San Fernando Valley resident who has appeared in more than 100 television shows and films. "This gives them a place."

Drew Bohan of Santa Barbara's ChannelKeeper said his group will continue its efforts in Ventura County--including a monitoring project on the Ventura River--and is looking forward to working with Waiya.



To report potential problems in Ventura County's waterways, residents can call (877) 4CA-COAST.

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