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State Panel Begins Task of Overseeing Bay Cleanup

August 01, 2003|Martha Groves | Los Angeles Times

Santa Monica Bay, one of the most treasured resources in Southern California, is also one of the most trashed.

Thousands of tons of cigarette butts, foam cups, oil residue and other detritus tossed on city streets ultimately wend their way to the bay, contaminating beaches and waters used by 50 million swimmers, surfers and anglers every year. During the rainy season, when the toxic runoff to the beach is at its height, swimmers are urged not to brave the sullied waves for days after any storm.

Cleaning up the bay became a higher priority Thursday with the creation of a new state commission charged with ensuring that millions of dollars in funds earmarked for bay restoration get used.

The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission was made possible by legislation written by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and passed in 2002. The entity is billed as a collaborative partnership among elected officials, government agencies, municipalities, business organizations and environmentalists.

At a news conference on the sun-splashed Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss accepted the role as the entity's first chairman.

"This commission was created so that we would finally put the full weight and authority of California behind efforts to heal the bay," Weiss said. "We're going to spend the money the voters have allocated, wisely, to restore the bay -- and spend it properly."

The commission will oversee more than $25 million in state bond funds that voters have directed to improve water quality and habitats in the bay.

Kuehl said the entire state stands to benefit from the cleanup. "Irreplaceable species make their home in this bay and, when they thrive, the whole ecosystem is strengthened," she said.

Helping to fund the commission is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has designated the bay as one of 28 National Estuary Programs under the federal Clean Water Act.

The commission succeeds the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, which worked, with mixed success, for more than a decade to clean up the 266-square-mile bay and its 420-square-mile watershed. The new state-sanctioned commission is expected to streamline the cleanup process, overseeing everything from acquiring wetlands to installing devices to treat runoff.

State and local elected officials, environmentalists and others attending the Thursday event agreed that the commission heightens the job's status and prestige.

"This takes restoration to a whole new level," said Steve Fleischli, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper, who will serve as one of 19 voting members of the new commission's board.

"With this commission, there's more accountability," said Mark Gold, executive director of Heal the Bay, who also will vote on the commission's decisions.

Fisherman Luis Flores, sporting a camouflage bandana under his straw hat as he fished from the edge of the pier, said he welcomed a concerted cleanup plan.

"When I fish," he said, "I take out clothes, shoes and socks from the water and I think, 'Oh, man, I shouldn't eat the fish.'"

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