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You win, San Francisco: Southern California stinks

September 11, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • The Salton Sea, more than 100 miles from Los Angeles, periodically experiences fish die-offs.
The Salton Sea, more than 100 miles from Los Angeles, periodically experiences… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)

Well, it’s official now: Southern California stinks.

This, of course, qualifies as old news to Americans of the Republican persuasion, and to residents of Northern California, San Franciscans in particular. (Who says bipartisanship is dead in America?!) But it comes as somewhat of a rude awakening to those of us who live in what we modestly like to call “heaven on Earth.”

The trouble started Monday when residents from Ventura County to Palm Springs reported a foul stench. Turns out it was none of the usual suspects: leaking septic tanks, the Dodgers, certain sushi restaurants or tourists from countries where bathing is optional.

So normally unflappable residents reached for their cellphones. People may be fed up with government, but hey, when it’s so smelly you can’t sit outside with a nice cigar and some chardonnay, well, somebody better do something, and quick.

The reports reached the ultimate in air somebodies, the South Coast Air Quality Management District. It soon identified the most likely culprit: a massive fish die-off in the Salton Sea, that salty, murky, accidental body of water located more than 100 miles from Los Angeles. 

That’s right: There’s something fishy going on, and it’s not just at City Hall. 

As best as anyone can figure, high heat over the weekend reduced oxygen levels in the Salton Sea, causing the fish to die. Then, thunderstorms raked the area Sunday, stirring up the water, and strong winds wafted the odor of decay toward our little corner of Eden.

Or, for a more colorful explanation, let’s hear it from our own hippy-dippy weatherman, Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge who moonlights as George Carlin:

"That atmospheric flow would bring the smell up from the Salton Sea into the L.A. Basin here. This was an ill wind that dropped from the Coachella Valley into the Inland Empire cul-de-sac and boogied west … into the San Gabriel Valley and L.A. County. The stink is normal around the Salton Sea. The strong winds are the unique occurrence that moved it into our 'hood.' "

(I’m telling you, if Patzert were a woman, and 30 years younger, and had a nice figure, he’d make a fortune on TV here.)

Of course, the blame-it-on-the-Salton Sea answer is only a theory. Not everyone is convinced. Here’s Andrew Schlange, general manager of the Salton Sea Authority:

"The problem is [the odor] would have to have migrated 50 to 100 miles without it being dissipated by mixing with other air. It doesn't seem possible. I've been in Southern California my whole life, and I'm not aware of any time in the past where the odor from the Salton Sea has migrated as far as people are telling us."

OK. So it could be we’re trapped in a lost episode of “The Twilight Zone.” It could be a promo gone bad for a new movie.  It could be that that “new car smell” all ran out at once. It could be -- holy Pat Robertson -- a message from God.

Thankfully, the AQMD is studying air samples. Leaving practically no town unturned, it “deployed field inspectors today to the San Fernando Valley, Long Beach, Colton, San Bernardino, Riverside, Perris, Temecula, Banning, Palm Springs, La Quinta and the Salton Sea in an attempt to locate the source of the odor.” (Presumably, they just followed their noses.)

Southern California waits, breathlessly, for an answer. As for San Francisco? It just can’t wait to say “I told you so.”

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