New BayKeeper director promises increased enforcement in Malibu

Tracy Egoscue, new director of Santa Monica BayKeeper.

Litigation is used frequently as a tool to “fix” problems regarding pollution in the Santa Monica and San Pedro bays.

By Kim Zanti/Special to The Malibu Times

The number one source of pollution in the Santa Monica bay is urban runoff, but if Santa Monica BayKeeper’s new director Tracy Egoscue, achieves her mission, the bay will be clean and healthy by 2010.

“We are walking the walk. We’re not just identifying the problem; we’re trying to fix it. We will work with people to solve problems, but if we can’t work it out, we don’t shy away from suing them,” says the 32-year-old environmental attorney.

For the past decade, Santa Monica BayKeeper has monitored the health of Santa Monica and San Pedro bays and adjacent waters. The private, nonprofit organization differs from education and advocacy entities, such as Heal The Bay, in that its primary role is to enforce water quality laws.

Malibu seems to have been able to work with the BayKeeper in solving problems. However, a serious issue in Malibu is the health of beaches, such as Surfrider, which received an F rating on the Heal the Bay Beach Report Card this summer.

“We’re turning the volume up on enforcement,” Egoscue said, referring to the collaboration between Heal The Bay, the National Resources Defense Council and Santa Monica BayKeeper to establish maximum limits of bacteria that can be allowed in the bay.

During this process, public comments will be heard on Nov. 26 and a hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4. (For more information on delivering comments, or on the hearing location, contact Santa Monica BayKeeper at 310.305.9645.)

Former director Steve Fleischli recruited Egoscue from the California office of the Attorney General’s Natural Resources section. The two met while acting as co-plaintiffs, along with the federal government, on a case against the City of Los Angeles.

“She knew a lot about the organization and I was impressed by that,” Fleischli said. “Then I saw her in action. She knows the law cold. There are very few lawyers who understand the Clean Water Act really well. Maybe a dozen. She’s one of them, and I think it’s huge for the organization to get her.”

Egoscue grew up in east San Diego County, where her grandfather, a zoologist, instilled in her a respect and curiosity about nature’s denizens.

“He showed me the burrowing owls, where they nested. He showed me the trails that coyotes took at sunset.”

But what really activated her, at age 12, was witnessing the ocean being turned into a dumping ground. She was an avid swimmer and the abuse made her angry.

Egoscue reflected, “I said then that I would be an environmental lawyer, and that’s what I said on my essay for law school.”

After receiving her law degree from George Washington University in Washington D.C., she worked as a policy analyst for Save The Sound in Connecticut, then as a California deputy attorney general. With the support of her husband and 3-year old-son, she began the stewardship of BayKeeper two months ago. She describes the switch from a stable state job to a smaller entity where she will most likely earn a quarter of her potential income as “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Although inheriting a legacy of program and legislative successes, she also faces several major challenges. Most notably, she now represents BayKeeper on the $2 billion dollar lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles that she and Fleischli worked on. After five years in mediation and an admission from the city that it was responsible for spilling millions of gallons of sewage into the bay in violation of the Clean Water Act, differences were not resolved.

“We know what the problem is-old and dilapidated pipes,” Egoscue said. “We hope that we never get to trial and the city, instead of paying penalties, agrees to use the money to fix the problem.”

The case is scheduled to go to trial in April 2004.

In Malibu, a serious water quality issue was resolved without litigation. Excessively high counts of E. coli and total coliform bacteria were draining from Ramirez Creek at Paradise Cove into the Santa Monica Bay. Cal Porter, a BayKeeper volunteer alerted the property owner and in turn, each partnered with BayKeeper to reduce the bacteria levels down to 0 percent. The work earned staff biologist Angie Bera the prestigious Water Quality Stewardship Award from the Regional Water Quality Control Board this month.

Steve Dahlberg is president of the Kissel Company, which owns land at Paradise Cove.

“They [the BayKeeper staff] are establishing that they can work with property owners, instead of fighting,” Dahlberg said. “We can develop trust. And we can all work together to achieve the same goals, it doesn’t have to get litigious and ugly.”

Egoscue relishes the opportunity to hold polluters accountable in the courts. It’s the little things she finds difficult to deal with.

“There are so many things that we do know how to fix, easily. So when people throw cigarette butts out the window, don’t recycle or over-fertilize, these are the things I find painful.”