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Opinion: Where does the trash go when it storms?

An interceptor serves as a last line of defense against trash flowing into the Pacific Ocean by way of Ballona Creek.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. I’m Deputy Editorial Page Editor Mariel Garza, filling in for Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, March 4. I’m still recovering from a week of wild, wet and windy weather. That ’70s tune about it never raining in Southern California (but “it pours, man, it pours”) has been running nonstop in my mind. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

All the cold weather and heavy precipitation has been great for spectacular views, the state’s water reserves and snow sport enthusiasts, although it hasn’t saved the state from the long-term problem of the shrinking Colorado River. Plus, the combo of torrential rain and extreme wind has left the Los Angeles’ streets unusually clean of the typical gunk and trash.

But I can’t help wondering where it all went, particularly the fast food wrappers and cups that Angelenos like to dump from their cars into the gutter. (What is that about?) Washed into storm drains and the river, OK, but then what? Does it all end up in the ocean?

To answer that question, I turned to the experts at L.A. County Public Works, who oversee storm drains and waterways across the region. The good news is that there are a number of ways that trash is caught before it reaches the open sea. All manner of filters and screens and basins — and something called the Trash Interceptor 007 (I am not making this up) installed last fall at Ballona Creek — are employed to collect many thousands of tons of litter before they end up bobbing around the Pacific Ocean, releasing toxins and being mistaken for food by marine animals.

The bad news is that in storm conditions like we’ve just experienced, the trash busting systems get overwhelmed and some of the debris washed from the streets ends up on the beaches or in the ocean, along with the dog poop, oil and chemicals that slip through even the best filters. Ugh.

All of this is to explain why the many efforts by cities, counties and the state to reduce trash, especially the nonbiodegradable plastic variety, are so important.

Balloon bans are the result of humans acting irresponsibly with their stuff. Laguna Beach is the latest coastal city to crack down on balloons because of their impact on marine life. It looks like balloons may go the way of single-use plastic straws, the editorial board said. “Balloons, like plastic straws, aren’t inherently bad. The problem is how humans use and thoughtlessly dispose of them. Releasing hundreds of colorful helium-filled balloons into the sky may be a visually stunning way to mark a notable occasion, but those airborne pieces of plastic will land somewhere and subsequently become a blight on the landscape and a hazard to the local wildlife.” L.A. Times

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A stain on our justice system. A Los Angeles Superior Court this week exonerated Maurice Hastings, who has spent 38 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Prosecutors had DNA evidence that could have cleared him, but they denied it to him when he first tried to get it tested 23 years ago. They later said they couldn’t find it, the editorial board wrote. Only recently was the DNA evidence tested and found not to match Hastings’. “Reexaminations of questionable convictions ought to be widely embraced by every player in the criminal justice system as the ultimate guarantor of the system’s legitimacy. But instead, such efforts are politically perilous.” L.A. Times

What should we do with mean Marjorie Taylor Greene? Just ignore her, says LAT columnist Jackie Calmes. If you somehow missed the latest MTG sideshow, here’s a recap: She called for a national divorce, with red states seceding from blue states, citing “irreconcilable differences.” It’s ridiculous, of course, and not only because Greene’s state of Georgia would likely become one of the Blue States of America. But she’s going to keep making outrageous and offensive comments if she gets rewarded with attention. “For years Trump’s critics implored the media to quit him. We can’t, we’d correctly say — he’s the president of the United States. But she’s not. And she’s only as ubiquitous as we help make her.”

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How California came to treat UC Berkeley students’ ‘noise’ as a dire environmental threat. A state court has given NIMBYs a gift by declaring noise from undergraduate parties an environmental impact, say land-use lawyer Jennifer Hernandez and housing advocate Robert Apodaca. “The concept of ‘social noise’ is perfectly designed to block housing in existing neighborhoods. If this ruling stands, other demographic and individual behaviors could become adverse ‘environmental’ impacts under (the California Environmental Quality Act). Because apartment residents are likely to be younger than their single-family homeowner neighbors, their ‘social noise’ could come from a colicky infant, bickering siblings or bursts of rebellious teenage music.” L.A. Times

California gave up on mandating COVID vaccines for schoolchildren. Here’s why that’s wise. Tracy Beth Høeg, a physician and research epidemiologist at UC San Francisco, explains that, unlike “the other vaccines required for school enrollment in California, the COVID vaccines are unreliable at preventing infection or transmission, providing at best modest protection against infection for only a couple of months.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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