Originally posted April 8, 2009.
Ocean Beach is a great place to live. We have the longest concrete pier on the west coast, killer sunsets and unique storefronts. But the real heart and soul of any community is its residents. So when I was asked to write something about local issues for the OB Rag, I immediately thought of all the amazing people I have met while living here and I wanted to share their stories. These are the “Movers and Shakers” the local activists, environmentalists, community leaders and volunteers alike that help to keep OB a wonderful place to call home.
Our first Mover and Shaker is Stefanie Sekich, local clean water activist and employee of The Surfrider Foundation. Stefanie was the driving force behind the Save Trestles campaign which successfully blocked big developers and the Transportation Corridor Authority (TCA) from building a toll road through San Onofre State beach and the legendary Trestles surf spot. I was lucky enough to catch up with Stefanie after her recent trip to our state capitol where she was an expert witness speaking in front of the state senate in support of a bill that would ban smoking on all state parks and beaches. I caught up with her to discuss the smoking ban, the ashtrays in OB and other local events she is a part of.
Jon: Surfrider’s “Hold on to your Butt” campaign was a major influence in banning smoking in local beaches and city parks. Now you’re supporting the same legislation in state parks and beaches. What would you say to the smoker who feels his rights are being infringed upon?
Stefanie: The hold on to your butt campaign has existed for 15 years and was started right here by the San Diego chapter of Surfrider. Now the same model is used by chapters all over the world. And the thing is, I have been known to smoke a cigarette or two while having cocktails. I want people to know that. I feel it’s very important right off the bat to say we have nothing against smokers. We only have a problem with those who throw their butts on the ground.
It’s a difficult position to be in because you can’t really legislate morality but the problem of cigarette litter has gotten so bad that we’re now starting to see scientific evidence that it’s not just ugly litter, it’s toxic litter. I have a lot of libertarian friends that freak out on me over the “my rights” issue, and I’m so far to the left that I often wrap back around to libertarian so I understand that argument. But because the issue of cigarette pollution is so bad we have decided to support this type of legislation.
Jon: Can you expand a bit on the correlation between Surfrider and cigarette litter, and also explain why this issue is so critical?
Stefanie: Basically when cigarettes are thrown onto our streets they are eventually pushed into storm drains and flushed out into the ocean. Storm drains do not have filters on them. We can send a man to the moon but we can’t figure out a cost-effective way to put filters on storm drains. In addition a lot of butts are left behind on our beaches by careless smokers. Once in the ocean, cigarette butts become a huge problem for wildlife. First of all, the filters on cigarettes trap chemicals so they don’t enter the smokers’ body. When the filter is introduced to water those chemicals are released and consumed by micro-organisms who die when the chemicals are ingested. Butts also contain plastic in them. The problem with plastic is that it photodegrades, it never biodegrades. When wildlife consumes plastics from cigarette butts and other pollution, they starve to death thinking they are full.
And personally I just don’t like seeing cigarette butts on the ground. I am an environmentalist after all.
Jon: Tell me a little bit about the cigarette butt cans posted up and down Newport Ave and Voltaire. I know you played a role in getting those for Ocean Beach.
Stefanie: I felt like if we were going to support a smoking ban on the beaches, I didn’t want the smokers to feel ostracized. So I wrote a grant for somewhere around $6,000 and got it for the local Surfrider chapter. We originally purchased 50 of the cans and posted them along the streets. The OBMA actually gave me the idea because they had those green coffee can ash trays out there originally. I just wanted something a little more obvious for out-of-towners to responsibly dispose of their cigarette butts.
Jon: I’ve noticed the butt cans fill up pretty quickly and often overflow into the street anyway. Who is responsible for maintaining the cans?
Stefanie: Like I said, the OBMA gave me the idea for the cans, and they have agreed to maintain them. I’m glad you asked me that because it shows that we did something good, but look what’s happening. We obviously need to keep up. But the OBMA does a good job. One problem is that people place trash and things other than cigarette butts in the cans and they clog and end up overflowing pretty quickly.
Jon: Last question, and this one is fun. Surfrider has hosted the Paddle for Clean Water event at the OB pier for 17 years now! Can you explain to those new to OB or who haven’t been to this event what it is and why it’s so important?
Stefanie: The Paddle is a non-competitive event where anyone is welcome to paddle around the OB pier on any type of floating device to raise awareness about clean water issues. It’s also used to nudge our local elected officials to do the right thing when they have ordinances or legislation come across their desk pertaining to clean water issues. We even get elected officials to come down to the event and speak.
I feel like I’m preaching to the OB choir here, but seriously, Ocean Beach is such an amazing community. It has that old school vibe and is like a petri dish for community thinking and that’s what we want all of San Diego to be like. OB has been the greatest place to host the event for that reason. It started with 50 people and last year I think we had somewhere around 2000 throughout the day. We even added a small fair in the parking lot after the paddle.
Jon: I can’t thank you enough for taking the time out to sit and talk with me about these important environmental issues. I want to go start picking up trash right now! But seriously, thank you for all the hard work you do in the community. Now for the Fast Five…
Jon: OB resident for?
Stefanie: 6 years. The entire time I’ve been in San Diego
Jon: Favorite Restaurant?
Jon: Favorite watering hole?
Stefanie: Pac Shores.
Jon: Favorite event?
Stefanie: The Paddle for Clean Water (duh?)
Jon: Favorite Store?
Stefanie: OB Hardware!
Jon: Stefanie, thanks again for speaking with me. I wish you the best in your noble fight to protect our oceans.
Stefanie: Thank you.
If you or someone you know is doing something cool to give back to the community I would like to speak with them and get their story. Please write to Jon at the OB Rag Blog email: email@example.com
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
-Margarert Mead – American Cultural Anthropologist