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Rainstorm Brings Deluge of Trash to Santa Monica Beaches

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

November 22, 2013 -- The downpour Wednesday night may have been welcome by some as Los Angeles faces one of its driest years on record.

But, as happens every time it rains in Los Angeles, this small autumn storm left in its wake a deluge of plastic, Styrofoam and other garbage scattered along the shore of Santa Monica Bay.

And, since more rain fell Wednesday than during the last storm on October 9, the flood of garbage that followed was proportionately larger.

“With much more rain, the second flush of the storm drains this early morning turned out to be much worse than the first flush,” said Benjamin Kay, a science teacher at Santa Monica High School.

Kay and his students have been monitoring the “flushes” of garbage that happen after rainstorms for the past six years.

And he said that it doesn’t look like things are getting better.

“The sad thing is that this is totally preventable, yet my students and I have documented the same phenomenon six years in a row,” he said.

“Even in our affluent, progressive, and green-minded community of Santa Monica, a thick stream of plastic pollutants flows unfiltered into the sea, and nothing meaningful has been done to systematically combat this crisis in my eight years of examining the issue with students,” Kay said.

But that’s not entirely true, said Meredith McCarthy, director of programs at the Santa Monica-based nonprofit Heal the Bay.

“The City has made huge leaps,” she said. “The City has worked very hard. The problem is the sheer volume of water that comes down.”

And another problem is that Santa Monica shares the Pico Kenter Storm Drain, the major outlet for urban runoff in the city, with its much larger neighbor Los Angeles.

Kay advocates “mandatory environmental education in all schools at all grade levels,” banning disposable utensils, cups and single-use plastic bags and using “reusable products.”

But Santa Monica has already done much of that. And, during dry weather, the beaches along the bay have consistently received excellent marks on Heal the Bay's annual beach report card in recent years. ("Santa Monica Beaches Get High Marks," May 25, 2012)

In 2006, Santa Monica voters approved Measure V, which would raise $40 million for projects to help stem pollutants in urban runoff, clean up beaches and in general, improve water quality. ("Prop V Gains Momentum as Votes Trickle In," November 27, 2006)

The City has also banned non-recyclable food containers and, most recently, single-use plastic bags. ("First Day of Plastic Bag Ban," September 1, 2011)

But other communities in the County, where much of the urban run-off comes from after a rainfall, haven’t taken those steps.

The City of Los Angeles recently passed a ban on single-use plastic bags, but it won’t go into effect until the new year.

Sometimes, the cities don’t have the resources to deal with litter. Since it doesn’t rain frequently in Los Angeles, litter builds up during the dry season. In some communities, that litter stays in the streets until it’s washed out to sea.

“I think there’s something like 250,000 catch basins in the County,” said McCarthy. “More affluent cities can send vacuum trucks to clean the catch basins.”

She agrees with Kay that education is an effective tool to combat urban run-off, since it can personalize the issue.

“Education is the key to connecting people to the idea that ‘this is my Styrofoam cup,’” she said.

This year, Heal the Bay has started a volunteer storm response team, which, McCarthy said, hit the beaches at low tide on Thursday.

At more than 120 volunteers, she said, the team goes to the beach during low-tide to gather as much trash as possible following a storm.

It’s a way to mitigate the amount of trash that gets washed out to sea and for people to see the aggregated impact of litter on local beaches.

“People have a hard time imagining what we’re talking about until you’re standing ankle-deep in Styrofoam,” she said.

For more information about the City’s efforts to clean up urban run-off visit the Office of Sustainability and the Environment’s webpage. To volunteer for Heal the Bay’s storm response team, visit

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