The Santa Barbara Surfrider Foundation’s Fight to Preserve the Coast

According to Guests Mark Morey and Ken Palley, "...we all have to pitch in, roll up our sleeves, and keep working and keep working and keep working."

Credit: Courtesy

On this episode of The Indy, we speak with Mark Morey, the Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara Chapter Chair, and Ken Palley, longtime activist, executive committee member, and former chair about the foundation’s mission and history of their environmental work along the Gaviota Coast. They share more about their battles with developers over land, community outreach projects, and the importance of upholding environmental legislation that protects preservations.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of this week’s episode, which you can listen to here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Hello and welcome back to the indie the podcast from the newsroom of the Santa Barbara independent. I’m your host, Molly McAnany. And this week I’m here with Mark Morey, the Surfrider Foundation Santa Barbara chapter chair and Ken Paly, longtime activist, executive committee member and former chair here with me today to talk more about the foundation’s mission and current environmental work along the Gaviota Coast. Thanks both of you for being here.

Mark: Thanks for having us.

Of course. So to start, can you share what the Surfrider Foundation’s overall mission is? Maybe how it’s changed over the years?

Ken: Well, the old simple mission statement was: our job is to protect and preserve the world’s beaches and surf for all people through conservation, activism, research and education. I think they’ve expanded that or modified it a little bit, but basically Surfrider’s bailiwick, as you might say, is the near surf zone. As opposed to you know, Sierra Club is all the way into the mountains and they’ve got the coasts and Greenpeace’s off shore. But Surfrider focuses on the area where most people actually experience the ocean. I mean, most people don’t go two miles offshore, they walk along the beach, they jump in the ocean and go 100 yards offshore. 100 yards ensure that narrow zone that the California Coastal Commission referred to as the coastal zone, that is Surfrider’s main area of interest, and our chapter follows suit, in the same way.

Mark: Yeah, you could you could say that, I agree with, you know, Ken’s got it right. And what it translates into is a lot of our programs are put in place to affect that coastal zone. And you know, we have some other, there’s sort of orthogonal, like ocean friendly restaurants and ocean friendly gardens. And those are sort of under the understanding that what enters the gutter eventually enters the ocean where we are. And so therefore, reducing single use plastics is a huge one. Because as we all know that those go into the ocean eventually. And ocean friendly gardens has to do with keeping your runoff from your, say, your rain gutters on the property. And so instead of just flushing it into the gutters as quick as you can, which ends up flushing all the other urban decay into the gutters and into the ocean, you can kind of conserve it. And in our region is, as you might have heard, we’re in a crippling drought. And so that’s makes it even more critical. So it’s sort of a win win.

And I mean, right now, what are some of the major issues facing wildlife in this area and local ecology systems? I mean, have you talked to locals? What are they experiencing right now?

Mark: Well, we’re in a pretty fortunate area, because we’re not completely urban blighted, like some of the places down south where they’re just nonstop, unbroken development everywhere. And so we have the Gaviota Coast, our flora and fauna is pretty good. And there’s a lot of people in the area, South Coast, who, who really care about that aspect of where we live. And so for the most part, keeping pretty good care of it. And that’s an you know, on land with our land acquisitions of open space, as well as marine protection areas off the coast, in places that have higher degrees of biodiversity so you can kind of protect those, you know, we have lots of you know, pretty healthy eelgrass which is one of those those plants that’s I don’t know what its threatened status is, but I hear, I mean, I see it all all over the place, but then I’m told it’s also threatened. So, you know, there’s, depending on where you go, we’re in pretty good shape. But, you know, we have to stay vigilant because when somebody proposes putting a golf course, right on the coastal bluff, you know, all that toxic pesticides and golf balls that people just hit into the ocean. That’s, that’s more pollution and trash and loss of biodiversity, obviously, where the golf course is is essentially about the horrible mono crop, water intensive mono crop at all the pesticides then go in the ocean. So that was one of an early battle we led which was to prevent the building of another golf course right up the coast, from the other golf course by Elwood and that’s, that’s at the Naples area, which now has a marine protection area. So it’s all goes into the stuff that our chapter does is focusing on those issues. Surfrider is a Southern California based organization, that’s where our headquarters are, but then we have chapters throughout the country and there are international chapters, you know, the national it’s, you know, they sell shirts and do branding and stuff but the chapters that’s where the action is happening where you actually get things done so each chapter kind of focuses on their local issues. So our local issues are essentially coastal armoring at Goleta beach and others and that has to do with the problems that coastal hard structures have on the sand. Because as you remember, you know, you can’t put a picnic towel on a pile of boulders, it’s nice to put it on actual sand. And those big boulders send the sand away when the waves hit it in winter. And so that’s why, you know, doing a smart way, like cobbles is a better way to go. And then also Gaviota Coast preservation. And so those are our two big issues and wrapped up in those are the flora and fauna and the beach experience. They’re all part of it. And so it’s not just sort of occurring in a vacuum.

Ken: And I would add in a specific response to your question, Molly, regarding the floor, our efforts to prevent what we deemed to be inappropriate development along the Gaviota Coast is essentially habitat protection, and the loss of biodiversity. And the decline in birds, in amphibians, and a variety of important animal species is a result of habitat loss. So although we do not specifically work on saving animals, per se, we are working on saving their habitat. And that is ultimately the most important way to save those animals.

Mark: And I should also mention that those animals helped us save them by simply existing at some of these places, and the presence of a few endangered species on our coast, finding those species on land that was slated for development, after being rubber stamped by our local politicians, that was what really came down to stopping it. You know, you have whitetail kite, you have red legged frog, Gaviota tar plant some of these, the Gaviota tar plant, it’s kind of funny; with a golf course, Gaviota tar plant, I’m told is quite rare. And so when they graded the ground, at the golf course area, somewhere around there was right before a huge rainfall, like there was some biblical rainfall event like 20 years ago, and they had just raided it. And what happened was that the Gaviota tar plant said, ‘Great, this is an awesome place to live because I’m native to this area,’ and then there’s a whole bunch of it. And so then, I mean, I’m not saying cause and effect, but that was a big issue for stopping that golf course, is you can’t just pave over essentially endangered species. And there is roosting habitats for these whitetail kites. You may have seen them actually, you’ll see a white bird hovering. It kind of looks like a small seagull, and then you’re like: ‘but that’s weird, what’s it doing?’ It just sort of flies. And it hovers in place. And it’s looking at something to eat on the ground, but that’s how they hunt. And so if you ever notice a bird just kind of floating in space not going anywhere, that’s not a hummingbird, that’s one of those whitetail kites. And so that helped us help it save itself. So props.

Well, and it’s so cool just to see them floating in mid air. It’s like they really do defy gravity. They’re such a cool bird to look at. But I want to go back to something you said earlier. Do you think that there is a push for environmental protection in Santa Barbara these days? I mean, there’s so many proposals just in the past five years, three years to change the landscape of downtown and our beach areas. Do you sometimes feel like you’re fighting against legislation and builders constantly?

Mark: Yes, this has gone back a long, long ways, two decades. So like I mentioned, I’m going to separate out because as far as the downtown area that’s kind of built up. We’re not focused on that because, you know, we are all volunteers and time is precious, but we go to the Gaviota Coast area, which I should just sort of say goes essentially from Elwood up the coast as you drive up the 101 to Gaviota and then it goes inland. You got Hollister Ranch, you got the Dangermond Preserve, it goes around Point Conception, you got Jalama. Then you have Vandenberg and you go up to Point South depending on how you want to define it. It’s kind of more about protection. But nonetheless, we were addressing, vigorously addressing a spate of development plans for the Gaviota Coast of this urban sprawl, pointless urban sprawl, to just put McMansions up the coast. And we’re like, you know, enough is enough. We need a comprehensive protection plan. And so Bob Keats is a member of our chapter from as long as I am, for at least 30 years, and we kind of independently came up with this idea, why don’t we try to get an effort to make it a national seashore. And so what that would do is get federal money to purchase places that were for sale, and take them off the market and put them as preservation. And so they did a big study. And it showed that the Gaviota Coast checked all the boxes as a national seashore, like inclusion in the National Park Service. So what that would do is help us so that we wouldn’t have to just address each of these projects one at a time and just be like, ah, resource drain, and it’s just like it’s just endless. But in this area, and I’m speaking pretty much South Coast only, we have a lot to preserve, there was a huge effort, community effort to preserve San Marcos Foothills, which was awesome. And that’s this area that’s just on the east side of the 154. There’s this bridge to nowhere, right as you go up the up the grade that you go under. And that bridge, if you figure out how to get to it, on the top of it, that’s where the thing starts. So the community came together, that was a roughly round $20 million raised by the community and other groups shout out to all that effort. But you’re like, hey, the community said this is valuable. This is open space, it hasn’t been ruined by McMansions, pointless McMansions that do nothing for our housing crisis. And it’s just trophy homes. And so now, that whole area, I don’t know the exact size of it acres, but it’s it’s pretty bass has been preserved. So therefore, there’s other spots that I have in mind, that could use the same treatment. That’s where we’re at. And I think the public, the public has the funds, but that shouldn’t just be the public. Keep in mind that the state has a 30 by 30 program, which is preserve 30% of the state, which is a big number, by 2030, which is coming up. Okay, so I don’t know where we’re at now.

It can’t just be done in a year.

Mark: Yeah, this might take some planning, but that takes, that’s real funding, you know, that’s required for that. So I don’t know what the strategy is. But as someone who does projects at work, get cracking, because this sounds hard. And the longer you wait, the more expensive and the more difficult it will be because, you know, urban sprawl, it doesn’t stop just because it wants to do the right thing. Okay, that just is not the case, this style of protection of these open spaces. Time is now, let’s get ‘er done. You know, we’re always trying to look for partners, you know, we have local land preservation groups. There’s Santa Barbara Land Trust, there’s Trust Republic Land, Nature Conservancy needs to step up, in my opinion, they’ve been notably absent, they said it was too politically charged to do stuff, preservation in the area. And then they got donated this giant block of 38 square miles of land, the Dangermond Preserve, which was spectacular, but there’s a whole bunch of other parcels that seriously, groups like us, and Gaviota Coast Conservancy, have stalled development so long and made it very unpleasant for people who just want to just do whatever they want and tear up the land and pave it all over. And they can’t do that. And groups like us have stocked them, therefore, they’re just like, look, just buy it. Like, okay.

Ken: I would add that, you know, that the community of Santa Barbara is pro-environmental. Without a doubt. Yeah, there are political issues, there are legal issues, landowners have some rights, and we respect that. And so finding that balance is is difficult. But when the community is polled, and asked to contribute money, they do step up to the plate. And as you well know, I mean, the the oil spill off of 1969 was, in some ways, the seminal environmental issue of our entire era. And it happened in Santa Barbara. And that’s not lost on this community. And then the recent one in Tajiguas. There was an oil spill a couple of years back, again, reinforcing that issue. So I think that there’s plenty of reason for optimism. But we all have to pitch in, roll up our sleeves, and keep working and keep working and keep working.

Yeah. And how have those oil spills in the history of oil along the Gaviota Coast; how has that led to climate advocacy and maybe legislation that Surfrider has helped draft or been a part of?

Ken: Well I think that, primarily when you get an oil spill, it’s a visible, palpable, smellable illustration of the hazards of inappropriate development. I mean, I drive a car, so I use gasoline. But I lately try to get almost every place I go on short distance on my cheap little electric bike. If I can go a week without cracking up my engine, I’m like happy as a clam. But I think that those catastrophes bring home in real time, to the local residents, how fragile our environment is, how fragile our paradise is. And it has helped raise public awareness, sadly, you know, but every cloud has a silver lining. And as a result, this community is strongly behind the efforts that Surfrider, Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Environmental Defense Center, etc, are making. But developers always have more money than we do. And so it’s an uphill battle. We’re David, they’re Goliath. But I believe, if I have my memory of the Bible is correct: David won.

So keep pushing, right? I have to ask you based on that, do think that environmental work is really based in the local? Do you think that it’s less about the sweeping reforms? And it’s really a lot about how can we attack the local issues that are going on because California coast doesn’t have the same issues, as say, Montana does regarding their environment. So do you really think that it should be a call to locals to start doing that? I mean, what do you want Santa Barbara to represent? I guess in your work, you started talking about the history, like they really did start this environmental movement because of that oil spill. So what message would you want Santa Barbara to send to other places who maybe don’t have a coast but are experiencing their own environmental issues?

Mark: Yeah, as Ken pointed out, the oil spill of ’69. This is about a few years, well, two years after I was born, so I was just getting started. But anyways, I always wonder if those oil companies that skirted the regulations, and drilled that hole without proper protection, they were supposed to put a sheath around the hole. So if they cracked the bedrock, it wouldn’t leak. And they said, ‘Ah, you know, we don’t need to do that. We’re, we’re oil drillers, yay.’ And then it did that and it made that mess and they kind of wonder. And then that made Earth Day, and made everybody to freak the hell out when our beautiful beaches got covered with tar and oil. I mean, it was like, why? And so yeah, that was a sobriety checkpoint right there of like, what happens when capitalism is left to its own devices, but I wonder if those oil companies might have, if they knew, ‘hey, if you make this, if you drill today, doing the way you’re gonna, you’re going to spearhead the environmental movement right here.’ I wonder if they would have maybe reconsidered their lackadaisical approach to doing something that was so risky. But anyways, the environmental protection spirit of South Coast, of course, is unfortunately reminded or refreshed by that oil spill and what was it 2015? 14? Yeah. And so you know, you really appreciate a pretty place when you see it spattered with oil.

Ken: Yeah. And I would say two short comments. One, what Mark just said, I think it can be summarized by the very well known expression, ‘you don’t miss the water till the well runs dry.’ And in answer to your question about local versus regional, you know, back in my youth, we used to say, and you’ve heard this expression, ‘think globally, act locally.’ We cannot and do not exist in a vacuum. If we do not get federal action, federal legislation, and federal support for local projects, then we’re swimming upstream. When the federal government comes up with projects, such as this recently passed so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which actually comes up with billions of dollars for electric, environmental issues. That’s going to filter down to Santa Barbara in most fabulous and wonderful ways. So we have to focus on our local issues, but we hope for help from the great beyond.

Mark: And also it’s sort of like, in the past, we’ve been up against very fickle local politicians. And it’s kind of like the analogy. I did this as performance art, essentially, because I just threw my hands up and I was just like, every time it’s just like, cigarette butts on the beach. Hey, it’s just one, and then you just throw that cigarette butt on the beach and everybody does it because it just one little cigarette butt, right? And it adds up. And so when our local politicians just vote to approve, just one more development, okay, just one, we can’t put this in the context of developing the coast, then we get into problems because they just have given lip service for so many decades to protecting our local coast on South Coast, and then just go ahead and just approve stuff anyway but they don’t have to. And so that’s where the problem is, that really the only solution that everybody can get behind is to buy these parcels. So if you buy it, then that’s it, you’re done. You can’t expect a landowner to do the right thing because they won’t, okay. And if they do, it’s an exception to the rule.

Ken: The Williamson Act is an Act that reduces taxes on land, if it’s kept in agriculture, and once you agree to a Williamson Act exemption it’s a minimum of five years, so you can’t take the money and then suddenly change. And so there are a variety of statewide legislation, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). There’s the California Coastal Act from the Coastal Commission. And then of course, we have California land use policies, etc. But there’s always a tension between desire to preserve and at the same time, the legal rights that landowners have. And there’s always this issue, when the county is confronted with a project that we think is inappropriate, and the county may look at it, and they say, ‘we agree it’s inappropriate.’ But if we deny this project, then the land owner will file what is called a takings claim. A takings claim basically means that you have made regulations that takes all the value from my land without due process. And that’s illegal. If the developer appeals the county’s rules and regulations to the California Supreme Court, and then ultimately to say the US Supreme Court, which we know has a relatively conservative bet now, they may rule that what the county did was a taking and the taking was $20 million. And so the county says, ‘we cannot afford to lose $20 million on this lawsuit.’ So you know, what is the threat that Surfrider makes? If we approve the project, Surfrider can’t sue us for $20 million. So that’s the tension that we face between the threat of development and protecting lawsuits, and our appeal to the better nature of our legislators and our elected officials. So far, we’ve had some successes, but we’ve had some losses.

Mark: So on that, the so called takings is a gray zone. Because a lot of times, what we’re saying is, okay, so agricultural land that somebody wants to develop a lot of time, it’s called, like AG 100, which is zoned which means you can put a house, guest house and a barn, alright, per 100 acres. 100 Acres is a lot of land. I mean, that’s pretty big. So sometimes we’re kind of like, ‘hey, why don’t you grow a spine and tell the developers sure you can build a house, but you can’t build a 16,000 square foot mega mansion.’ All right, you can put a reasonable thing. And it’s in the coastal plan, where they say, hey, if you’re going to build a house, it has to be in the theme of this rural area, not like Beverly Hills or some ridiculous place. And so you can put a house, but how about a 4000 square foot house, you know, sacrifice. So that’s, that’s the gray zone. But the thing is, they’re too afraid to tell the developer you know, we’ll approve this, but you can’t have a 16,000 square foot house that’s too big, and it’s outside of the character of the area. And they could choose to enforce this or request this, but traditionally, they’re too afraid. And what they do, it goes from Planning Commission, to the Board of Supervisors. And then if a group like us says, Hey, I, you know, I think you need to take this coastal commission or to, you know, get there. I don’t know, the process, but, but I’ve spoke at the Coastal Commission, numerous times all over the state, you know, against these inappropriate developments on the Gaviota Coast. And so the Coastal Commission, they can’t handle that lawsuit again. So they’re like, well, and you never know what they’re going to do. It’s kind of bizarre. But anyways, that’s why as the original question had something to do with drafting legislation, we don’t do that, our chapter. That’s outside of our purview. But there is legislation, as I mentioned, 30 by 30. So I look at that as an opportunity. And I go, if you’re going to make a law or whatever that is, whatever form this 30 by 30 is, that’s going to require money and urgency. Alright? So that sounds like an opportunity to me because I noticed that some of these parcels are up for sale. Alright, so I have a willing seller, and prices and negotiation, life is a negotiation. So let’s go here, we have a good target. And if we can get the parcels of land that are on the eastern end of the Gaviota Coast kind of butted up against like Winchester Canyon and Elwood and whatever that hotel is out there, going west, if you start there, and make a whole bunch of protected areas, large areas, you know, hundreds of acres, then in the local coastal plan, you’re supposed to do leapfrog development. So it’s sort of like a buffer to stop urban sprawl from just the inevitability of moving westward pointlessly. So that’s something that you know, you have to be clever to outwit the scourge of urban sprawl. Because once it’s developed, it’s really hard to undevelop it.

And you’re not drafting legislation, necessarily, but you do take the legislation. And it’s kind of like your ammunition when you go and you say, ‘but this is the red line right here. This is what it is, like, let’s actually look at it.’

Mark: A lot of times that’s all we’re doing is asking the supervisors or whoever to just simply enforce the rules that are on the books, just say, Hey, we’re just just trying to play by the rules here. And according to Section 3.2.1.A you know, it says you’re supposed to do this.

Ken: And while we’re not directly involved in drafting, promulgating legislation when legislation is proposed, often with the guidance of our national headquarters in San Clemente. We will write letters of support, and we will lobby as we are allowed to do, as long as it’s nonpartisan. We can’t support a Democrat or a Republican because of their party, but we can support a policy that is nonpartisan, and if it’s pro-environmental.

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And what has been the impact of the Santa Barbara Surfrider Foundation chapter’s environmental efforts on the Gaviota Coast, like do you track that? Do you have tools that help gauge the local impact? I mean, what have you seen change because of your influence, even just briefly?

Mark: Well, I would say that there’s only been one house built in the last 30 years out there, just one. And so we’re doing pretty good. But like I said, we don’t have all the, you know, all the arrows in a quiver. We’ve got a couple. But that’s our strategy, is to delay. And be sticklers for the law, currently on the books and always be looking out for clever ways to get protection and protect these areas. You know, it’s an ongoing, epic saga. But we’ve been very successful because there’s only been one house bill.

Ken: And I would add a couple of things. So minor victories. So when I first started working with this chapter, one of the things that we did was called storm drain stenciling. Mark probably remembers those days, and we would go around to the storm drains and we’d say, ‘Don’t dumb, this goes to the ocean.’ And we did it as individuals, the county actually gave us some supplies. But eventually, that was like a holding action. Eventually the county started doing it themselves. And so like we were the seed and the fruit was that now all the storm drains are stencilled and blocked off and protected by the county. It was one minor victory. Not so minor. Second victory out at Devereaux several surf spots out at the end of Camino Majorca is the name of the street. It is an undeveloped middles spotted land. It’s dirt, a bunch of eucalyptus trees and such and for people to gain access to walk down the staircase down to walk along the beach there parked on the dirt. For several years, the county wanted to pave it and institute a parking permit program. So you’d have to buy a permit and it was only available to residents. The only organized opposition to that was Surfrider, we fought that we got some pro bono attorney from Ventura. And basically eventually the Coastal Commission ruled that the plan to do that was going to impede public access. And the county just folded and we still have free public parking out at Devereaux. That was 100% thanks to our chapter. And we did that with very little money. And as Mark points out, we’re like the junkyard dog of the environmental movement. We don’t have a lot of money. We punch way above our weight. You might think SharePoint, oh my god, they don’t know this stuff. It’s like this handful of activists with no money or no formal training. And yet, we have fought Arco oil company, one of the Seven Sisters of the oil industry, a multibillion dollar corporation, they’re the ones who wanted to build the golf course, it was going to be Arco Golf Course. And one of our members found the endangered red-legged frog on their property and the property was denied. So I think Mark summarized it. We have been fighting for decades. The developers keep coming back. They keep coming back. They keep coming back. And what do you see out there now? One house has been built. I mean, that is a testament. One of our colleagues from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, which is one of our strongest allies, and the Environmental Defense Center that represents us on various cases. Phil basically has this famous quote, he says, “The Gaviota Coast, that’s where capital comes to die.” So many wealthy hedge funds, millionaires with crazy schemes of massive developments, hotels, 50 houses, mansions, have come here with these grandiose plans thinking, ‘Surfrider! Surfrider, they’re a bunch of you know, low brow just surfers, and yet, they have failed, failed, failed and failed. And yet, here we are, and the coast is undeveloped. One picture is worth 1000 words. Reality is worth 1000 pictures.

No, that’s great. I definitely think that’s a great way to gauge as well like, because if you come in and you build all of this stuff, is the Gaviota Coast going to be as beautiful? It’s debatable, right? Is it going to be as exciting for people who come to Santa Barbara and I feel like because Santa Barbara has been so associated with the environmental movement, and more and more people are starting to get excited about it. So I have to ask you at your first in-person meeting after a while, last night, Thursday night, and this weekend on Saturday, August 20 there’s another beach cleanup, can you talk a bit more about those events, as well as the community outreach that Surfrider does to keep people coming in and joining in this community work?

Ken: Well, the meeting last night, it was the first in a while, we had Rachel Couch who was a local representative for the State Coastal Conservancy, which is a state agency that works hand in hand and I just learned this last night, oh, I’ve known Rachel for years, it was handed him at the Coastal Commission, that Coastal Commission that forces and legislates and the California Coastal Conservancy helps to advise and devise projects. So it was an extremely informative meeting, there was a relatively small handful, there’s only room for about 25 or 30 people there, we had about 15. But people are still a little gun shy. We had everything open. And I would call it a very successful meeting and very informative. And as you say this Saturday from 10 to 12. I don’t know the exact pinpoint location but somewhere at Chase Palm Park is a beach cleanup in conjunction with some local organizations and Jack Johnson tickets will be raffled off and the details are easily found anybody who’s interested just go to the Surfrider Santa Barbara website, there’s information about that. Beach cleanups are an important part and they’re one of the foundations of all Surfrider chapters, and I’ve organized and participated in so many it goes way back. And I remember many years ago, I organized a beach cleanup with the Crane School in Carpinteria. And at that time, I was talking to the den mother of the surf team. And I wrote a paper called The Theory and Practice of Beach Cleanups, which I pointed out that the actual effect of beach cleanups, getting a handful of kids out there picking up trash, it’s minimal, its marginal. And the gal who was the head of the den mother for the surf club at Crane School was saying, “Ken look at these kids, these eight and ten years old, they’re walking along, they pick it up a piece of trash,” she says, “You know, I could go down to the labor pool down on Milpas Street or wherever it is, and, you know, hire unemployed workers. You know, I’m wealthy, I get two guys 50 bucks each, they will clean the hell out of this beach; 10 times better than all these kids.” I said, “That’s not really the point.” The point is to get these kids out on that beach in the hot sun, picking up cigarette butts and realizing that’s the number one pollutant, pieces of paper and trash. The next time they’re at the beach with their buddy, and their buddy throws a candy wrapper on the ground they say, “Hey, dude, don’t do that. I just cleaned you know.” So it’s really more of an educational and team building effort than it really is to keep trash away, although it certainly keeps trash away. But you know, the flow of trash is kind of endless. And if we don’t stop it at the source, clean, picking up after people, is not an efficient way to do it. It’s really more for consciousness raising. And that’s what we hope for a lot of people show up on Saturday. Get out there, clean up the beach, feel a connection to the environment and who knows, might get a free beer, win some tickets to the Jack Johnson concert. I’m going to be there. It will be fun.

I love that. No, I agree. And I think you’re right. It is more about starting from the source. I’ve actually never thought of it that way. It’s more about you know me making sure that they, as kids, realize where their trash goes, which is super important, because I think a lot of the time kids don’t have that consciousness until they get a little bit older, and then they understand where things go. But regarding educational outreach, final question, what is Surfrider’s vision going forward? Of course, we’ll keep fighting, but how does the Surfrider Foundation hope to grow its impact in Santa Barbara? What’s in the works?

Ken: That is the $64,000 question.

Only 64??

Ken: Well, is that the million dollar question, right? You know, COVID has had an adverse impact on our ability to do outreach, because we haven’t had live meetings. And you know, it’s been pointed out by a lot of sociologists over the years that America is getting more withdrawn. We sit in our homes, and we watch videos, I think it was summarized in a book that was written about the decline of the bowling league. You know, 40 years ago, everybody went to PTA meetings, people were in bowling leagues and softball teams and things like that. And so there was more community involvement in community issues. People have gotten more isolated, in a sense, because of technology, you can sit in your home and experience a much more incredible array of environments and circumstances and people and actions and activities without actually getting involved. And so it’s getting a little harder to get the next generation of people to show up at Surfrider meetings, and volunteer to be activists. However, we continue with our outreach efforts through our monthly newsletter, beach cleanups where people see what we’re doing, and we get to talk, participating in podcasts like this, every little bit helps. And we send out our newsletter. And we have, for example, on the 27th, we’re going to be at the Night Lizard [Brewery], friend of ours, a local surfer has a band and he’s playing and Night Lizard has agreed to get Surfrider a table. And they’ll give us a percentage of the take, like for every beer that’s sold would give us $1, something like that, and maybe we’ll get to sell a few hats. So we work in a very small local level. And you know, if you just look at the objective level of effort and the degree of activism that we got, it seems like that’s it? That’s all you do? And yet our impact has been relatively enormous, because of our tenacity. And, you know, a million dollar company comes in with a project. And Surfrider says, well, we’ll fight you to the tooth, you know, we’ll fight you forever. And since they’re paying their attorneys, you know, they got 10 attorneys who are making $500 an hour. So every meeting that they go to: $10,000. We have EDC, who are equally effective, but paid a fraction of what they deserve. They should make much more than they get. And we beg, borrow and steal for enough money to pay for our attorney fees. And, again, you know, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. The Gaviota Coast remains relatively undeveloped. Santa Barbara coastal waters relatively clean. And in fact, I want to say one last thing. Here’s a note of optimism. About a week ago, my buddy and I were out at Devereaux surfing. It was pretty flat, we’re on stand up paddleboards just sightseeing really hoping maybe for small waves. And all of a sudden, we see a sea turtle. I said, Oh my god. Afterwards I went and I talked to local people who are experts on the subject, you know, local, coastal biologists, etc. Nobody has ever reported a sea turtle there. Or a live sea turtle in Santa Barbara county. One dead sea turtle was found somewhere in Isla Vista by Dave Hubbard, who walked the coast every day. And he’s a coastal scientist, was on staff at UCSB. He said never reported ever before. So that may be a sign of, I mean, it’s probably a sign of global warming, the oceans are getting warmer, but the fact that it’s a satisfactory habitat for a sea turtle, can you imagine if we could just keep it clean? And despite global warming, who knows? Maybe five years from now sea turtles will be common just like when I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out on my surfboard and had a pod of dolphins come swimming right at me. And all of a sudden, they go right under the board. And it’s like, if I don’t catch a single wave today, that experience made the whole day worth it. So I am optimistic about the future. We need the young, the next generation to step up the plate. I’m 75. I mean, I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna have the energy to do this. I’ll keep on truckin as they say but I think our outreach efforts have met some success and we have some young electronically savvy people who know how to do Zoom meetings. I couldn’t run a Zoom meeting if my life depended on it. So I think there’s a glimmer of hope. But we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work and we’re going to.

Credit: Courtesy

I paddleboard myself too and I’ve been up to the kelp forest over there and I’ve seen a couple of dolphins and we’ve been like ‘alright that’s good for the day. We saw it,’ like that’s the coolest thing I’ll ever see. But I did like what you said earlier about how reconnecting with the local because it goes back to what you said earlier about, oh, think globally, act locally. I think people are thinking globally a lot lately, which is what I think overwhelms a lot of people about the environmental crisis. But if they just get reminded by organizations like Surfrider that you can do stuff locally that does make a big impact, then maybe it seems more controllable and more like you can be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. But is there anything else either of you would like to add? I mean, I’ve been so enjoyed our conversation today.

Mark: Well, there is some optimism. Just this week, the city of Goleta voted on some sort of proposed amendment to ban single use plastics, and it’s kind of getting along, well it’s an inevitability but I’m really glad that they just went and gone done did it. And so but, it’s awesome nonetheless. And they are banning those mylar balloons that people think are so glorious when you let them go, and then I have to pick them up on the beach before a whale eats them and dies. You know, but it’s an awesome thing. So I thought that was pretty encouraging. One thing I am kind of concerned about is the donation of Las Varas Ranch to UCSB. And unlike the Dangermond Preserve, which was donated to a conservation organization, donating this huge plot of land with I think no strings attached to the university has me kind of worried right now. They’re just sort of like, oh, we’ll just do farming and keep it as it is. But the UC regents make the call, and they are not known to be good team players.

Ken: They are exempt from county regulations, the only break on potential misuse, or as we would deem misuse, they still have to comply with the California Coastal Act. So we still have the Coastal Commission if they do something, but they are exempt from county regulations.

Mark: So that’s something that, you know, these are things, you know, just keeps us going, you have to be ever vigilant because like I said, only one house has been built. Alright? And so a lot of places are for sale. And the time is now to preserve that land on the Gaviota Coast for us and future generations. People take it for granted. They go Oh, wow. I’ve heard people say this, oh, this is so nice. The whole coast is all preserved because there’s nothing built out there. You’re like, oh, no, it isn’t. And it’s being simply stalled. Alright, and by groups like us, who’ve been in it since day one, preventing the development out there and try to keep South Coast looking as good as it does. We’re in it for the long haul. And, of course, we could use any help. We’re all volunteer run, as Ken said, you know, and we’re not going to last forever. But we do need to be replaced by spry, young individuals. And there’s lots of opportunities to participate. And so we have a presence on the web that you can go to And they have chapters and find us there and contact us and get a piece of the action. We have executive committee meetings where we get into the nitty gritty details of these ongoing struggles. Those are every month, the second Thursday. And then every other month, we have these in person meetings, that we’ll call them a mixer, because that sounds more fun. We do have free drinks and pizza and a very interesting speaker like last night. And so you can also get on our mailing list for that and so that you can be informed, get the newsletter, we don’t bombard you with stuff every day. It’s just once in a while. And so those are, you know, really interesting topics that we that we have covered a lot of science and policy people come and talk about what they did at work today.

Well, thank you so much to both of you. I will 100% link all of your stuff in the show description. And so everyone can just click on that to sign up for things.

Ken: Thank you for giving us this wonderful opportunity. It’s very nice to meet you and I look forward to seeing you up and down the coast.

Mark: Alright, thank you too.

Ken: Have a good weekend. Thanks so much.

Bye. Once again, I’m your host, Molly McAnany. Tune in next week for another episode.

All music for this episode written by Molly McAnany.

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