Marine scientist and coastal activist Rimmon C. Fay has died. He was 78.
Fay, who was born in Santa Monica and raised in Venice, died of a heart attack Tuesday, January 1st, at Berkley West Convalescent Hospital in Santa Monica.
Fay was among the coastal activists who helped achieve the passage of Proposition 20. The 1972 initiative’s victory authorized the California Coastal Commission to handle the demanding question of how to balance public, private and nonhuman interests to the California coastline.
Fay earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at UCLA, and conducted post-doctoral work at USC in chemical oceanography. He tirelessly applied that training to discover and document the causes of what he saw every day underwater as a diver — the startling diminishment of biological diversity in what had been one of the most biologically rich areas of ocean in the world.
Fay brought another quality that is rare among scientists —fearless independence. Fay and his partner Craig Berlotti established Pacific Bio-Marine Labs, a company that sold marine specimens to laboratories all over the world.
Fay would make four to six dives a day collecting specimens, but his self-employment also allowed him to attend hearings and testify on behalf of the ocean without fear of censorship. And he did so for decades.
As a coastal commissioner, however, his unwillingness to compromise drew complaints about him to the appointing legislative body. After six years on the commission, he was removed and replaced by a developer.
Born in 1929, Fay remembered Venice from a time when its low rents offered Depression-era dust-bowl migrants affordable housing. He remembered the beach from a time when one could dive for coins from the pier, because the water was clear enough to see them on the bottom. He began working as a Los Angeles County lifeguard while in college and continued for 50 years.
Fay loved the ocean and knew it intimately. Once challenged by a news reporter as to where to sink a bucket to bring up a certain category of fish, he motored his boat without compass or other visible markers to an exact spot, and brought up the fish in question. He was known to dive at night alone.
Fay’s contributions to the Southern California coast are monumental. He helped end the dumping of DDT by Montrose Chemical off White’s Point on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. He achieved the listing of the brown pelican as an endangered species. Along with the banning of DDT, this allowed the bird to subsequently recover.
After the passage of the Clean Water Act, and Proposition 20, he turned the tide of West Coast coastal communities, requesting waivers to the Clean Water Act that had allowed them to dump partially treated sewage.
Fay led efforts to clean up Santa Monica Bay. After a long legal battle, the settlement he helped achieve with the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant not only helped preserve the fish stocks that were being lost to the plant’s cooling processes, but the settlement with Southern California Edison created a wetlands mitigation fund that has been used to preserve valuable coastal wetlands.
After moving to Port Hueneme in 2000 and fighting challenges of poor health, he continued to attend California Coastal Commission hearings and wetlands meetings and to write letters on numerous issues.
Even after being sidelined by a series of strokes, he continued to call plays from the bench. He dictated the letters he could no longer write himself, opposing offshore LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals and he repeatedly warned about the dangers that desalination posed to the delicate chemistry of coastal waters.
Above all, Fay’s legacy is an example of the difference — through passion and intellect —that one person can make, in absolute defiance of the rampant cynicism of our day.
He is survived by his ex-wife Janet; sons Douglas, of Marina del Rey, Rimmon B. of Inglewood, Wesley of Everett, Washington, and Trevor of Monterey; and sisters Jacky Burton of Canoga Park and Lynda Gettig of Winterhaven, as well as eight grandchildren.
A memorial at the Venice Beach breakwater is tentatively planned for the morning of Sunday, January 20th, weather permitting.
Information on the memorial and to receive confirmation of the date and time, Trevor Fay, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The family says that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Association and designated to “public education” or “junior lifeguards” at LACOLA Trust Fund, 524 Garnet, Unit B, Redondo Beach 90277.
— Janet Bridgers was a longtime associate of Rimmon Fay and worked on numerous coastal environmental issues with him.