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L.A. County beaches ranked foulest in state

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County predictably earned the dubious honor Tuesday of having the most polluted beaches in California.

Less predictably, Long Beach jumped out as the worst offender among the worst.

But having made those pronouncements, Heal the Bay, the environmental group that routinely conducts pollution studies along the California coast, declared this one a victory of sorts. The reason: a number of the usual cellar-dwellers passed with flying colors because of recent cleanup efforts.

Mark Gold, the executive director of the Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, pointed to such perennial polluters as Will Rogers State Beach as examples of cleanup efforts along the coast that were starting to yield results.

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“It was always one of the worst offenders,” Gold said of Will Rogers, which earned an A rating in the organization’s annual “End of Summer Beach Report Card.”

The study, which grades more than 450 California beaches, bases its findings on levels of bacterial pollution in the water. Los Angeles County received a grade of F for 29 of its 97 testing stations. San Diego County was next with three F readings, while Orange County had one. There were 37 F ratings in the entire state, compared with 278 monitoring stations that received A ratings.

Gold described Long Beach as the “biggest surprise of the summer” because its beaches normally receive good grades for water quality. But this year, only three of the 25 monitoring stations got an A or B rating. Last year, 21 of 23 stations got either A or B grades.

Gold said the source of the pollution was most likely the Los Angeles River, which dumps into the ocean at Long Beach. He said one possibility is that shifts in sediment at the mouth of the river may have redirected pollution along the coast.

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The city’s Marine Stadium, Mother’s Beach and Colorado Lagoon have been closed for weeks because of pollutants traced to defective sewer pumps. But Gold said they were too isolated to have had such a widespread effect.

Darryl Sexton, the Long Beach city health officer, said he had not had a chance to examine the report and could not comment on it.

Gold said the next step in cleaning up the state’s beaches was dependent on the passage in November of Proposition 84, which would provide $540 million to help maintain coastal waters.

“It’s extremely critical,” Gold said of the Clean Water and Coastal Protection Bond Act. It would provide $225 million to clean the Santa Monica, San Diego, San Francisco and Monterey bays, watersheds and rivers draining into them. The measure is opposed by several taxpayer organizations, which say it will be a cash cow for environmental groups and that paying back the $5.4-billion bond issue would drain about $350 million a year from the general fund.

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Although Gold was upbeat about the report, other areas in Los Angeles County pulled down the grades for that strip of coastline. The Santa Monica and Redondo pier areas both earned Fs in the study, while Dockweiler State Beach and Manhattan Beach at the 28th Street drain earned Ds.

Also receiving poor grades, as it has in the past, was the beach at Avalon on Catalina. It has been plagued by the aging town sewer system, which is in need of repairs and updating.

In another recent study, Heal the Bay also took a more detailed look at the Santa Monica Pier, whose waters tested positive for large amounts of bacteria. The study said the predominant source of the bacteria was most likely the pollution pond in front of the pier storm drain, which is being cleaned up.

In other parts of the state, the beaches of Santa Barbara County suffered a marked decline this year, with six of the 20 monitoring stations receiving fair to poor grades. In Orange County, 90% of the beaches received A ratings, including Doheny Beach, a perennial polluter. Monarch Beach, in Dana Point, improved from an F last year to a B this year.

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Overall, most of the state received good grades from Heal the Bay. Receiving A’s were San Diego, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, San Francisco, Sonoma and Humboldt counties.

Heal the Bay is one of the largest nonprofit environmental groups in Los Angeles County.

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michael.kennedy@latimes.com

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