The politics of pollution
December 4, 2009
BY JOEY RACANO
The ride to San Diego is always worth it, and last October was no exception. The golden hills of San Luis Obispo gave way to the windy passes of Gaviota. They, in turn, lead to the perpetual scent of burn in Santa Barbara, the coastal charm of Ventura, through to LAX jets and the madness of L.A. At the refineries of Carson, a 5-story American flag commands us to introspection, as our soldiers die in far flung lands for the price of a gallon of gasoline and a hunger to be free.
Part of that freedom is the liberty to challenge, against all odds, the powerful, entrenched–and sometimes wildly popular and famous–who would see our precious Mother Ocean as a dump for rich industrial friends and the detritus of society.
We arrived in Oceanside a day before the California Coastal Commission meeting to find a good place to moor our biodiesel-powered RV and came to rest ‘neath the waving arms of a California Pepper Tree. I wondered why a tree from Brazil was called Californian, and I also wondered why Governor Schwarzenegger was forcing the Coastal Commission to re-vote on the San Diego sewage waiver. After all, it had only been 54 days since the Commission voted a resounding ‘NO’ by an 8-1 margin. This was a new application by San Diego to keep dumping America’s dirtiest sewage into the ocean at Point Loma, but it was being heard without the six months wait required by law. Something just didn’t seem right.
When the illegally ordered ‘re-hearing’ of the California Coastal Commission meeting started, the mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders, sat in the hallway, nervously twiddling his fingers, and in through the door waltzed none other than California Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman. This was big.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Number Two man and Chair of the Ocean Protection Council? This was indeed a powerful presence looming over a meeting to re-decide the fate of the San Diego sewage-dumping waiver–a waiver being used to flush 200 million gallons a day into the ocean with no secondary treatment.
Chrisman shook hands with all the bad guys, and it dawned on me that he was up to no good. He joined the Coastal Commission in the back room for a closed-session, and it became abundantly clear that Arnold had sent him to this meeting to tamper with the regulatory process of the State of California, putting our ocean in grave peril–and all the while pretending to back the creation of Marine Protected Areas.
I started snapping photos of the bad guys left and right, and Secretary Chrisman had angry words as I snapped his photo coming out of the backroom. “What’s that for?” asked Commissioner and Schwarzenegger appointee Steve Kram (who I later photographed throwing a cigarette on the street). I answered, “It’s for my huge email list!” with a smile.
San Diego Coast Keeper Bruce Reznik twice threatened to hit me, catching himself in time to save his own neck. I kept snapping photos of him saying, “Yes, please hit me, please.” His lady Coast Keeper said, “I’ll hit you!” They were quite shameful–there to support the waiver, and the money they get from the city to ‘study’ alternatives.
Meanwhile, Surfrider Foundation Lawyer Marco Gonzales had a worse display–surrounded by cute attorneys, he put two middle fingers arrogantly in the air, expressing his contempt for the health of those who must surf in that water.
The poor good-guy Coastal Commissioners could only sit back with blank looks, being forced to ‘vote again’ on an issue they knew was wrong. It was so corrupt, I had to re-name the Resources Secretary ‘Double Cross’ Chrisman!
In the end, even the heroics of Heal the Bay, who sent in Mark Gold himself, couldn’t save the rueful day, and this time the waiver passed, 8-4. A vulgar display of manipulation, and the losers were the surfers, the fishers, and people like me, who believed in Arnold.
Mike ‘Double Cross’ Chrisman should resign as Chair of the Ocean Protection Council immediately. As for Arnold Schwarzenegger–who has tried to open our coast to offshore oil drilling, clear cut our forests with a phony cap and trade ruse, and now has tampered with the regulatory system to allow 50 billion gallons of sewage a year to continue being poured into the sea by San Diego’s mayor Sanders, -his ‘clean water ocean legacy’ is disgraced.
As for our merry band of ocean activists still intent on stopping that last sewage waiver in California? We’ve just begun to fight!
Joey Racano is an environmental activist and director of Ocean Outfall Group.