For the first time in a political career spanning a quarter-century, Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman represents a piece of a coastline--the stretch from Malibu to Venice. In recognition of this, the veteran supervisor says he plans to take an active role in the fight against pollution of Santa Monica Bay.
But in an appearance last weekend before the annual meeting of the environmental group Heal the Bay, Edelman acknowledged that he has a lot to learn about issues affecting the beach.
Until the boundaries of supervisorial districts were redrawn last year, he never represented any territory west of the San Diego Freeway as a supervisor or as a Los Angeles city councilman.
"I'm learning about pollution into the Santa Monica Bay, and I'm looking to your organization to help provide some of the answers," Edelman said in his characteristic low-key manner. "The ocean and the beaches are a very valuable resource that belong to everyone. We must protect those resources."
He recalled summer visits to Ocean Park as a youngster, playing on the beach and swimming in the bay. "What a wonderful experience it was for me," he said wistfully. But he lamented that today, "the water is polluted. . . . "
"I don't want to go down there or have my children or grandchildren go down there on a beautiful day--and they can't swim."
More than 100 environmental activists attended the Heal the Bay meeting at Mount St. Mary's College in Brentwood.
Edelman pledged to work with environmentalists to "help chart the county on a better course than we have been on in the past."
And for the first time in a decade, he may be in a position to deliver on that promise. When Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina is sworn in as a supervisor Friday, Edelman will become the leader of the new liberal Democratic majority on the five-member board and potentially one of the most powerful local officials in the nation.
Before the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued to overturn the boundaries of the previous supervisorial districts, arguing that the board had intentionally discriminated against the county's Latino population, the entire county coastline was the province of Supervisor Deane Dana.
When U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon last summer approved new district lines, including the heavily Latino district that Molina won in a special election last month, the coast was divided between Dana and Edelman. The dividing line now runs through Venice.
"This new reapportionment has helped the cause of environmentalism along our beaches," Edelman said.
In an interview, Edelman said the county's prized oceanfront must be protected. "We have to take steps to prevent storm-drain pollution, sewage pollution, to keep it safe and clean for people to enjoy," he said.
Edelman said he shares the goals of Heal the Bay, a grass-roots group that got its start in 1985 battling the city of Los Angeles' sewage discharges. The Santa Monica-based organization has since become a leading advocate for cleaning up all sources of bay pollution, including the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts' discharge of 380 million gallons a day of partially treated sewage off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
For years, Heal the Bay has been locked in a pitched battle with the Sanitation Districts over its request for a waiver of federal Clean Water Act standards to avoid having to upgrade sewage treatment at its Carson plant.
Under pressure from environmentalists and coastal lawmakers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December rejected the waiver request and ruled that full secondary treatment is required. Such treatment removes at least 85% of the solids in waste water before it is pumped into the ocean. At present, only half of the Carson plant's discharge has received full secondary treatment.
"The county did not demonstrate that its waste-water discharge would allow the natural fish and shellfish populations to thrive on the Palos Verdes Shelf," EPA Regional Administrator Daniel W. McGovern said in a statement.
The EPA decision was a major victory for Heal the Bay, although the sanitation agency is contesting the ruling. Heal the Bay's fight with the Sanitation Districts has been so intense that the organization last weekend sardonically awarded the agency its first White Croaker Award--"to the person or agency who has most negatively impacted the bay." The white croaker is a species of bay fish that has been so affected by pollution that it is considered unsafe to eat. No one from the sanitation agency was present to pick up the award.
"The county Sanitation Districts is the worst actor, there is no question," said Dorothy Green, past president of Heal the Bay. She noted that the County Board of Supervisors has no direct control over the sanitation agency, but said pressure from county government "certainly can't hurt."
For his part, Edelman appeared less than familiar with the sanitation agency's workings. "That's something I want to learn more about," he said in response to questions from Heal the Bay members. He said the supervisors do not control the districts, which include representatives from numerous cities in a vast service area stretching from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Pomona.
And he stopped far short of promising to force the districts to upgrade treatment processes, a project that the agency estimates could cost $350 million. "When you talk about cleaning up something, there is usually a cost associated with it," Edelman said. "We have to figure out where the money comes from (and) how we get it."
On another pressing issue, Edelman reiterated his belief that the soon-to-be-incorporated city of Malibu should be given a chance to develop its own sewer system instead of the massive project the county has long sought for the area. "I don't think the Coastal Commission will approve a sewer system that the Malibu city people have not consented to," he said. "We've got to work together. . . . I'm not for pushing something down their throats."
Green, a member of the city board that oversees the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said she looks forward to working with Edelman on the county sanitation districts and other issues.
She said Heal the Bay will press Edelman to direct the County Health Services Department to cooperate with environmentalists on such issues as beach closures, storm-drain warning signs and a long-sought study of the health effects of swimming in the bay.
Although he may not always agree with Heal the Bay, Edelman said the organization will have an open door to his office.
"I'm going through a learning curve here," he said. "I don't know all the answers. But I'm sure going to look into some of these things in a more forceful way than I've done in the past."
BACKGROUND The redrawing of county supervisorial districts along the coast was a side-effect of a long legal battle over Latino representation on the Board of Supervisors. U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon ordered the redistricting last summer after ruling that the board had discriminated against Latinos in a 1981 districting plan. As a result, Supervisor Ed Edelman now represents the coast from Malibu to Venice. Supervisor Deane Dana, who formerly had the entire county beachfront in his territory, now represents the area from Venice to the Orange County line.
Westside Supervisorial Districts With boundaries drawn, Supervisor Ed Edelman's 3rd District represents coastal area for first time. Also shown in white are Supervisor Deane Dana's 4th District and Kenneth Hahn's 2nd District.