By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
“But I want to be an S.O.B.!” Dorothy Green joked during our discussion about whether to name our new group “Save Our Bay” or “Heal the Bay.” As 20 or so of us crammed into my little studio apartment in Ocean Park, two Hollywood types no one seems to remember made a persuasive — and historical — case for the word “heal.” And so Heal the Bay was christened.
We made another important decision that day: To set our membership price at $5 instead of the “going” rate of $15, $20 or even $25 that most environmental groups charged. While other volunteers of our humble group designed the T-shirts or drafted the legal briefs we’d use to force the Hyperion Treatment Plant to stop dumping sewage into the Santa Monica Bay, I organized our first membership drive.
“$5 to help heal the bay!” we called from behind folding tables on the Venice boardwalk, hoping to lure skaters and sightseers. Although we had only a sketchy plan to actually “heal” the Santa Monica Bay, people stopped, signed up and donated.
It was 1985. Fellow environmentalist Ruth Galanter was about to be elected to the Los Angeles City Council, unseating the entrenched and pro-development Pat Russell, and Dorothy was feeling heady.
“Let’s clean up the Santa Monica Bay!” she enthused. I thought she was nuts. The bay was so polluted that people actually got sick from swimming in it. But Dorothy was hard to resist.
Thirty years and 15,000 members later, Dorothy’s vision of a healthier bay and a thriving organization to protect it continues to flourish.
But the work isn’t finished yet. As Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay prepares to launch into its fourth decade with a gala fundraiser on May 14, many challenges remain:
• Water Conservation: “We’re working toward developing a regional comprehensive water management strategy that takes into account water quantity as well as water quality,” explains Nick Colin, Heal the Bay’s communication manager. “As the region’s premiere ‘water watchdog,’ we’re expanding our boundaries and scope to consider statewide issues as well.”
• Storm-water Pollution: Urban runoff carries bacteria, toxic chemicals and trash from miles away into the bay, creating the largest source of local water pollution. Drought-friendly gardens, permeable pavement and rainwater capture systems can reduce storm-water runoff.
• Global Climate Change: Rising temperatures raise the sea level everywhere, including in the Santa Monica Bay. Salinity could change. Movement of nutrients along currents could change. Entire ecosystems could change.
• Habitat Restoration: Continued development along the bay’s watershed threatens the health of the bay. Preserving creeks, lagoons and wetlands (such as the Ballona Wetlands) not only keeps storm runoff from polluting the bay, it preserves the entire tidal ecosystem.
• Marine Protected Areas: These are designated areas where fishing is limited or restricted, thereby allowing marine life a safe haven to reproduce and grow. “They’re a key part of restoring fish populations,” says Dana Murray, Heal the Bay’s senior coastal policy manager, “because they protect the entire ecosystem rather than just a single species.” Recently designated ocean preserves are located off Point Dume and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
• Plastics: Heal the Bay has been at the forefront of urging communities to ban single-use plastic bags and of educating consumers of the ongoing dangers plastics pose to the environment. “Parts of our ocean have more plastic than plankton,” says Murray. “This plastic plague never biodegrades and can persist for hundreds of years in the ocean, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces and killing marine life.”
• DDT and PCB Contamination: For decades, manufacturers of pesticides and industrial compounds containing DDT and PCBs dumped their waste into the sewage system, which then discharged into the bay. Today, a “toxic hotspot” of more than 110 metric tons — the world’s largest DDT dump site — sits on the Palos Verdes Shelf and is designated a Superfund site. DDT, banned in 1972, and PCB, banned in 1979, become concentrated higher up the food chain; thus, some of the fish from Santa Monica to Seal Beach are considered unsafe to eat.
• Once-through Cooling: Many power plants in Southern California suck millions of gallons of seawater — every day — into their plants to cool their systems. “These plants trap and kill thousands of animals a year, not to mention the fish eggs, larvae and other microscopic life that is destroyed by the high suction and heat,” explains Murray. Heated water is released back into the ocean, which further damages the ecosystem.
• Oil Drilling in the Bay: Although Hermosa Beach voters defeated an oil-drilling proposal last month with nearly 79% of the vote, only a regional moratorium can ensure the bay’s future protection.
Dorothy died in 2008. She’d battled cancer for decades, but that never stopped her.
Dorothy was indeed a tenacious, lovable S.O.B. who once told the Los Angeles Times that we chose the name Heal the Bay because “it communicates hope.”
Just like Dorothy did.
Heal the Bay’s 30th anniversary gala happens May 14 at the Jonathan Club, 850 Palisades Beach Road, Santa Monica. Tickets are $500. Call (310) 451-1500 or visit healthebay.org.
Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a Santa Monica resident, blogs at LivingLargeInLimbo.com. Contact her at KellyArgonaut-Column@aol.com.