Action Plan Takes Aim at California's Beach Trash

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Concerned that California's beaches are being ruined by rubbish, a group of environmentalists, educators, business leaders and government officials called Monday for mandatory education courses on the environment and broadened powers for the state Coastal Commission to clean up storm drains.

"California's trashy coastal areas have become a death trap for wildlife, a danger to human health and safety and an economic burden for coastal communities," said Jill Kauffman, Pacific Coast regional director for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Marine Conservation. "We are tired of this needless destruction of California's resources."

The recommendations were included in an 89-page "action plan" released Monday at press conferences in Los Angeles and San Francisco by the California Marine Debris Steering Committee. The group was formed last year by the nonprofit conservation center to further review the scope of marine pollution documented in a nationwide study.

The study analyzed 3 million pieces of debris collected and recorded by 65,000 volunteers in 25 states and territories as well as portions of Mexico and Canada. It concluded that garbage, particularly plastic and plastic foam, is killing marine life at an alarming rate.

Plastic foam cups, for example, are often mistaken for food by sea gulls and other birds that ingest them and choke on the particles. Grocery and vegetable bags are confused with jellyfish and transparent plankton by a variety of sea animals, including whales, dolphins and turtles. The creatures eat the bags and are unable to digest them.

The plan released Monday came as the city of Los Angeles' Board of Public Works recommended a proposal to tax homeowners and commercial property owners for improvements to city storm drains that empty into Santa Monica Bay.

The proposed tax would cost the average homeowner in Los Angeles about $2 this year to pay for a $4.2-million pilot program at the Thornton Avenue drain in Venice and the Ballona Creek Treatment Facility near Marina del Rey, where city engineers would collect storm-drain runoff for filtration.

The proposal, which the board voted to send to the City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley for approval, would serve as an interim program until the council and mayor agree on a comprehensive effort to control storm-water pollution citywide, said Philip Richardson, an engineer with the Department of Public Works.

"This is a nominal charge, and hopefully it will be palatable to the council," Richardson said.

At a press conference in Pacific Palisades, supporters and authors of the marine debris action plan sought to dramatize their cause by littering table tops and floors with plastic foam cups, soda cans, plastic straws, potato chip bags, hamburger wrappers and plastic grocery bags. Kauffman said the debris was collected Sunday during a 15-minute stroll on Santa Monica beach.

"A coffee cup from a fast-food place in Glendale thrown on the ground is very likely to enter the marine environment at some point in time because presently the storm-drain system has no checks other than some grates at the entryway," said David Lederer, who represented the environmental group Heal the Bay on the steering committee.

Among the recommendations, the plan calls for:

* Stricter enforcement of state litter laws on beaches and new legislation requiring more trash bins.

* Economic incentives for manufacturers to reduce product packaging and produce environmentally safe and recyclable products.

* Questions about the environment on state achievement tests in addition to environmental courses as a graduation requirement in public schools.

* A statewide public campaign to discourage littering and encourage compliance with the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act, which bans the dumping of plastics at sea.

"Maybe the kids can pull it out," said Coastal Commissioner Gary Giacomini, referring to the plan's emphasis on education in schools. "We hope this spreads like wildfire. We are convinced it will."

Kauffman and others acknowledged that the recommendations will need support in Sacramento to have any significant effect on the state's marine debris problem. She said the center has been in touch with several legislators, but has put off its major lobbying effort until after the November election.

John Glidden, chief of staff for state Sen. Becky Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills), who was represented on the steering committee, said the senator intends to introduce legislation early next year to enact "the best ideas" in the action plan.

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