Will Politics Jeopardize Access to the California Coastline

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This op-ed originally ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Feb. 4, 2016.

Each Thanksgiving week, my family and I load up our car with surfboards and drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway to spend the holiday with my brother and his family in San Francisco.

396673_309927975787691_1312602472_nHeading up that coastal road past emerald coves, perfect waves, elephant seals and sea otters is absolute nirvana.

Our annual family adventure reinvigorates my love and appreciation for what author David Helvarg calls our “Golden Shore,” where “wilderness cliffs and sea cliffs contrast starkly against the dazzling bright silver sea.”

485030_309927669121055_1576734659_nGrowing up in Los Angeles during the 1960s, and Imperial Beach during the 1970s, the son of European immigrants who escaped the horrors of World War II, my family reveled in the freedom of the wide-open and friendly beaches of California.

We took our first camping trips at Carlsbad State Beach, Mission Bay and among the redwoods and wild beaches of Big Sur.

Later, as a college student, I worked as an ocean lifeguard and witnessed firsthand how the 1,100 miles of open, accessible shoreline in California is our great melting pot where we come together as families and friends and share in the moments that create lifelong memories.

Thankfully in 1972, Californians had the foresight to ensure the fundamental right of everyone to access to the coast when they approved the California Coastal Conservation Initiative and the creation of the coastal commission. No other government body in the world plays as important a role in ensuring that every citizen, not just wealthy oceanfront property owners, has access to the beach.

Jumping off of the rocks at Steamer Lane.

Jumping off of the rocks at Steamer Lane.

Today, the Coastal Commission helps cities like Imperial Beach plan for the future and prepare for rising seas and a changing climate.

The coastal commissioners who are appointed, and the professional staff that advise them, balance coastal development with the need for clean air and water, wildlife protection and open space for Californians and millions of coastal visitors to picnic, camp, surf and enjoy a great day at the beach.

Dr. Charles Lester currently oversees the commission.

Through his training as a geochemist and attorney and with a doctorate in political science, Lester is uniquely qualified to oversee the protection of California’s coast.

Last year I observed him firsthand at a forum at UC Irvine on the challenge of sea level rise in California. I came away deeply impressed with Lester’s commitment to successful, adaptive and innovative problem solving for the significant and costly issue of coastal erosion.

It was as apparent then, as it is to me now, that Lester has the vision, expertise and leadership skills to guide the commission and our coastline into a climate-challenged 21st century.

Unfortunately, a group of commissioners, largely appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, who originally championed the development of the Coastal Act, are seeking to fire Lester.

These political appointees want to dismantle our strong and independent Coastal Commission, which puts the public good above private profits.

Not only is that bad for our ability to enjoy our coastline, but a threat to transparency, good government and democracy in California.

I hope for the sake of present day Californians who experience the best days of their lives on our shoreline and future generations who have yet to experience the thrill of their first day at the beach, that Governor Brown reigns in the forces that seek to eliminate our access to, and enjoyment of, our “Golden Shore.”

We cannot afford to play politics with California’s fragile coastline, which gives so much enjoyment to so many.

DSC_1449Note–on February 10, 2016, in an event now called the “Morro Bay Massacre”, Charles Lester was fired in a 7-5 vote of the California Coastal Commission

 

WILDCOAST IMPACT 2014

One of the great pleasures of being the Executive Director of WILDCOAST is being able to evaluate our impact each year. And this year was a tremendous year of success. Here are some of our results.

impacts page

Got Sand? A Brief History of Sand Projects in Imperial Beach

A boy who was almost impaled by metal dumped on Imperial Beach in 2004.

Sometime this week the Scows DS5, Harold M and Clarence D and tugs Katha C and Killeen will transport barges filled with 33,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged up from the Ballast Point Coast Guard Station in San Diego Bay by the vessel DB Palomar.

 

Rather than dump the dredge spoils that contain cadmium, lead, arsenic, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls  (PCBs) at an existing dumpsite off of Point Loma, the toxic sediment will be placed just offshore from the terminus of Imperial Beach Boulevard in Imperial Beach. The placement of this toxic material will be carried out with the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the City of Imperial Beach.

The history of Imperial Beach is rife with a parade of badly executed “beach replenishment” projects that have failed to actually do much to protect our coastline. The problem of our receding shoreline is the result of the combination of sea level rise, the construction of the Rodriguez Dam, and the armoring of our coast.

Here is a brief history of the mostly unsuccessful and fatally flawed sand projects carried out by federal agencies at the urging of the City of Imperial Beach. Only one agency, SANDAG has been able to carry out a successful beach project—primarily due to its commitment to using clean large grain sand for its projects.

1976-77: The most toxic areas of South San Diego Bay are dredged and the spoils are dumped on Imperial Beach killing benthic life (e.g. sand crabs) for more than a decade. Local surfers still tell stories about the skin rashes they received from contact with the filthy sediment.

1977-1984: The Army Corps attempts to build a mile-long breakwater in Imperial Beach. The fledgling Surfrider Foundation and local surfer Jim Knox stop the project at the last minute. The breakwater would have forever destroyed surfing and wave action in most of Imperial Beach.

2000-2009: Army Corps and the City of Imperial Beach plan a $75 million long-term project involving dredging an area near the border sewage outfall pipe that was used as a WWI gunnery and bombing area. WiLDCOAST, Imperial Beach surfers, the Surfrider Foundation, Senator Tom Coburn and the Obama White House kill the project that the City of Imperial Beach spent more than $250,000 lobbying for.

2001: SANDAG carries out a project with clean sand, which helps to create great sandbars for surfing and clearly increases the size of our beach.

2004: Army Corps dredges area near the Bay Bridge. Barges then dump toxic sediment in the surf zone including thousands of rocks and pieces of garbage, dangerous rebar and metal onto beach and in surf zone. Surfers call the dump area “Toxics”. One child is almost impaled by a piece of rebar that is hidden in the surf zone. The City initially denies that the garbage and rocks are from the project. No measurable benefit to beach.

On of the thousands of shell/rock conglomerate dumped on Imperial Beach in 2004. These can still be found all over the beach.

2007: Army Corps permits the dredging of a toxic hot spot in San Diego Bay’s Shelter Island. Dredge spoils are dumped with no notice to Imperial Beach residents. Barge is initially turned away by Imperial Beach Lifeguards. The barge subsequently works in the middle of the night to avoid public scrutiny. No measurable benefit to beach.

2010: SANDAG once again proposes “best practices” sand project to be carried out in 2012 involving clean large grain sand. The agency works extensively with local surfers and stakeholders to plan the project.

Rather than focus on a coastal zone management plan that proactively seeks to enhance our coastline by addressing sea level rise, ocean pollution and beach management, unfortunately the City of Imperial Beach continues to seeks the placement of any type of “sand” on our beach, regardless of the potential threats to our children.

It will be important for the community to monitor the current project to identify any impacts and threats to public safety. In a communication on Tuesday with the EPA I wrote that, “Unfortunately during all of the San Diego Bay projects in which dirty and toxic sediment is dumped on our beach—federal agencies have either not informed local agencies at all, or involved almost minimal notification or no stakeholder involvement at all. These are examples of the worst type of coastal zone management practices.”

People go to the beach to swim in clean water.  The City of Imperial Beach should focus on reducing ocean pollution—the main deterrent to tourism—rather than  placing toxic sediment on our beaches in a misguided attempt to promote economic development.

See you in the water.

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

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