BLUE NOTES #98: Peter Douglas Remembered, Going Deep and more
April 17, 2012
By David Helvarg
Peter Douglas, creator and long-time executive director of the California Coastal Commission was fighting an ongoing battle with cancer when he learned he’d been named the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards’ Hero of the Seas for 2012. He wrote that he was honored and would be there to accept if his body and the universe gave him dispensation. Sadly, Peter passed away on April 1. His now posthumous award is in recognition of 40 years working to assure public access to and scenic protection of California’s more than 1,100 miles of spectacular coastline. Last year a delegation from the World Bank visited California and told him his state has the best coastal protection on earth.
Want to know more about Peter’s legacy? Read an appreciation piece I wrote that appeared in the Los Angeles Times Easter Sunday.
Another Benchley Award winner in the news, though for far more sanguine reasons, is our 2010 Excellence in Exploration champ Don Walsh who in 1960 became one of only two humans to reach the deepest point on earth when he and Jacques Piccard dove 7 miles below the Pacific into the Mariana Trench. On March 25, Don was aboard James Cameron’s support ship when the Hollywood director and explorer became the 3rd human to make that journey in a high-tech elevator-shaped submersible. Don will be in San Francisco June 1 to present the 2012 Benchley Explorer Award to Ocean in Google Earth.
Unfortunately, as an exciting new race to return to the ocean’s depths is forming up between James Cameron, Richard Branson and other private citizens, the Obama administration is looking to zero out funding for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration. Having stopped a Republican plan to gut NOAA’s Satellite Program, the White House has decided to eviscerate a number of NOAA’s marine programs including public education, marine sanctuaries and exploration. At the same time it’s undermining the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out its at sea environmental and law enforcement missions, cutting its 2013 budget 4 percent (versus 1 percent for the Pentagon). It also plans to reduce the number of large new Coast Guard Cutters from 8 to 6 even as it funds 20 new Navy ships of the same size and cost. For more on this sorry tale of two ships check out my April 2 story in Roll Call.
Does President Obama want White Sharks to feed on your children? Republicans in Congress are open to the idea. The House Committee on Natural Resources chaired by Republican Doc Hastings of Washington (see Blue Notes # 84) recently held two hearing on how the President’s Ocean Policy to better coordinate federal agencies and various users of our public seas is actually an attack on our right to go fishing and/or a Federal plot to undermine Alaskan sovereignty. Committee members have also brought up UN Agenda 21 (from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit) a favorite red herring of right-wing conspiracy buffs who believe environmental protection is part of a UN plot to undermine U.S. sovereignty. Red herrings, by the way, have proved to be among the most sustainable fish. Rep. Hastings is now asking the House Committee on Appropriations to introduce language in all its agency budgets prohibiting funding for the National Ocean Policy. A more down to earth perspective on ocean policy can be found from the Coalition for Healthy Oceans or our National Ocean Policy page.
Remember in 2008 when Barack Obama campaigned for President promising to help get us out of the recession by building a green energy economy that would “solve two problems at once”? He’s now running for re-election bragging there’s been more oil and gas production in his first term than under any President in 30 years. He recently went on a 4-day energy tour without once mentioning climate change. Ocean energy activist Richard Charter (another past Benchley winner) has alerted us to a series of Department of Interior public hearings coming up in the next few weeks that could lead to offshore oil drilling along the eastern seaboard. For more information visit Adopt An Ocean.
The administration has already given permission to Shell Oil to begin exploring for oil in the Arctic Ocean this summer on the premise that if the 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf wasn’t exciting enough to get your heart racing, wait till there’s a spill during an Arctic Ocean storm. The risk-averse moderates at Greenpeace have decided to dampen the climate-thrill junkies by organizing some ship-based protests this summer.
Our friends at 350.0rg are also organizing global actions on climate change May 5 called Connect the Dots. You can participate or save photos from the winter before this one so your grandkids can see what the word ‘winter’ once meant (also polar bear and coral reef).
Clean Sweep for Earth Day
In Richmond, California, we’ll be celebrating Earth Day and our election victory over a planned Mega-Casino at Point Molate, 422 acres of stunning and largely undeveloped city owned headlands on San Francisco Bay (see Blue Notes # 68 & 81). Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate (a project of BFC), along with the Watershed Project, will be holding a beach cleanup on Saturday April 21 from 10:30 AM – 1:30 PM. We expect this public beach, which has been fenced off since 2004, will soon be reopening. Work gloves and a delicious BBQ will be provided to the clean-up crew. Among our expected guests will be BFC’s Ocean Explorer Roz Savage (most recently spotted being received by the Queen). RSVPs are requested.
One World One Ocean will be launching their new IMAX film To the Arctic about a single mom polar bear and the challenges of raising two cubs on her own plus the extra hassle of fossil fuel fired polar melting. Check for it in IMAX theaters around the nation starting around Earth Day.
On April 28 I’ll be joining the marine artist, composer and now filmmaker Wyland for the premier of his new film about the Gulf oil spill, ‘Blues Planet: Sounds,’ at the Newport Beach Film Festival. As an extra treat: the film includes a music track by Taj Mahal.
2009 Benchley Media Award winner Mark Shelley of Sea Studios also has a new film opening in May, Otter 501 about a girl and her furry marine weasel friend. I’m about to watch it and can’t wait to find out how much adorable I can stand.
And of course we all look forward to Benchley Award (2010) and Academy Award winning director of The Cove Louie Psihoyos’ next film in which I expect him to make the threat of global extinction cinematically compelling and somehow hopeful. In the interim we have four autographed copies of The Cove DVD and oversized movie posters that will be up for auction at the Benchley Awards. (Stay tuned for how you can bid on these items!) Did I mention that Louie, Mark, Wyland and the MacGillivrays, founders of One World One Ocean, will all be attending the 5th Annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards event June 1 in San Francisco? Join us!
A regular feature of Blue Notes where we shine the light on a group from the Blue Movement Directory in order to create a more self-aware and collaborative movement. This month we feature California Coastal Commission.
In the 10th installment of our series based on the Blue Movement Directory, we’d like to profile Peter Douglas’s Legacy, the California Coastal Commission. You don’t normally think of a state agency as part of the blue movement but then again, Peter credited the commission’s success to its public engagement. “People come to the commission and they’re listened to, get inspired and they fight because they know they can make a difference,” he told me in our last interview in 2011.
“Peter was a coastal activist and he recruited other activists to be part of the commission,” agrees the agency’s legislative director Sarah Christie.
The Commission’s mission, established by ballot initiative in 1972 and codified into law in 1976 is to, “Protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for…current and future generations.”
As an independent, quasi-judicial state agency it has a range of powers including granting (or denying) building permits within the coastal zone, an area defined by the State as ranging from a few hundred yards wide in urban zones to several miles deep along Big Sur, the Redwood Coast of northern California and other rural areas. Of course the fact you can use ‘rural areas’ and ‘coastal’ in the same sentence, and in the most populous state in the nation no less, is itself testimony to the huge and positive effect at controlling coastal sprawl the Commission has had over the past 40 years.
Along with permitting and requiring that every coastal county develop LCP – Local Coastal Planning – and periodically upgrade it to guarantee protection and public access to the coast, the commission runs a number of other programs on a starvation budget including educational outreach, creating the California Coastal Hiking Trail (now over half completed), promoting coastal clean-ups, publishing guides to state beaches, parks and resources, and fighting off federal attempts to expand offshore drilling, sink old nuclear submarines or burn toxic waste from incinerator ships (an EPA proposal during the Reagan administration).
Of course in protecting the coast from unsound development the Commission has gained many powerful enemies. As a result, over the years its’ staffing has been slashed from 212 to around 120 people. Since 1980 its budget has grown marginally from $13 to $16 million while inflation has grown 150%. Along with various past Governors trying to defang the Commission (Governor Pete Wilson tried to get Peter Douglas to resign as its Executive Director) the commission is also under ongoing attack in the legislature. Just last week the State Senate defeated a proposal to zero out funds for Local Coastal Planning that would have ended decades of successful collaboration between the Commission and coastal communities up and down the state. Governor Brown is supportive but also asking all state agencies to practice “belt tightening” whereas the coastal commission is so starved for resources its got no belt holes left.
Still, a suggestion quoted in The New York Times obituary for Douglas that without him the Coastal Commission might now collapse fails to ring true.
“Peter’s strengths came from the fact he had a strong law behind him and it’s a tragedy Peter is gone but the Coastal Act hasn’t gone,” explains the commission’s Sarah Christie. “It’s still strong and the agency he built is still strong and public support for the coastal commission and its mission is stronger than it’s ever been.”
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