Movers and Shakers : Stefanie Sekich of The Surfrider Foundation

by on March 25, 2010 · 30 comments

in Environment, OB Heroes, Popular, San Diego

Stefanie Sekich at Trestles state park, fiercely protecting our oceans. Photo by Chris Giles.

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.

2008 Paddle for Clean Water event participants urging us to stop the toll road. The toll road was defeated on December 18th, 2008.

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.

This is not what these are intended for.

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?

Stefanie: Ranchos!

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:

“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

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

mightyquinn April 8, 2009 at 7:28 am

It is people like Stefanie that make OB the wonderful community it is! Nice job John!


skinny P April 8, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Its great to know that local residents are working in their communities.


Margaret Muller April 8, 2009 at 2:20 pm

What a good story – interesting and informative. Stefanie deserves a lot of credit for her activism and you for your insightful interview. Keep up the good work!


jon April 8, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Thank you for the compliments! I have a sinking suspicion either Stefanie or myself know most of you. :) I would also love to hear from some locals and other regular posters if they like this format and have any other leads for me to interview and write about. I would be interested in local bands and store owners as well. Really anyone who helps add to the positive community environment of Ocean Beach.

Thanks for reading.


Marie Allen April 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Good interview Jon and a very interesting subject. Stefanie certainly is a good neighbor — someone who doesn’t just talk about problems but actually does something to make changes happen.

Will look forward to reading about the next mover and shaker!


Gary Gilmore April 8, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Hey! Jon! real nice! I really like the question & answer format. Good straight questions and straight answers. It gives me a better perspective on what the surf riders are doing and made me think a little deeper about what happens when a but is tossed into the gutter. So…. the fish eat the butts and starve because they think they’re full… Hmmmm…..makes me think about a lot of the people I see who….oh, never mind. Maybe if we flavored them and put them on the table as appetizers…I digress! Sorry. Nice article. Easy to read and concise. I’ll keep an eye out for your next article.


Dave Gilbert April 8, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Very cool piece Jon, Stefanie roxxx!

Filters for the filters…I like it! My Grandpa once told me, “all a cigarette needs is a sucker”. True dat, but they’re also one of the hardest addictions to quit too.

As an ex-smoker I’m much worse about cigarettes. I have plenty of friends that still smoke and I love my friends but I hate the smell of burning tobacco…especially walking down Newport. They stink, and it’s gotten pretty smelly down there, especially if your stuck behind one.

Just the other day I was watching one of the street people flip his lit butt into the gutter in front of a local shop. I said, “hey bro you dropped something” so he turned and looked around and looked back and said, “really what?” I said, “your cigarette” and all he said was, “awwwww” and walked on. I thought to myself, “what a loser!”

Look, I’m not in favor of any kind of legislation but I do wish smokers were a little more polite and aware of their surroundings. If they want to kill time along with themselves that’s fine for them, but please leave the rest of us out of the whole tobacco smoking scene.

OK, Thanks for letting me rant…carry on! ;)


lane tobias April 8, 2009 at 9:11 pm

great article jon! cant wait for the paddle event in ’09


Dave Gilbert April 8, 2009 at 9:21 pm

That event shreds Lane!

I’d be interested in hearing more about the Surfriders arguments against the proposed desalination plant that Poseidon wants to build in Carlsbad.


jon April 9, 2009 at 6:55 am

From what I understand Dave they are not opposed to desalination, but rather this project in particular because of the effects it will have on marine life near the plant. Apparently there is better technology available than what is going to be used there. I will get some more information and try to get a direct answer from the folks at surfrider today.


Frank Gormlie April 9, 2009 at 8:10 am

Jon – excellent interview. you chose an especially difficult process: the art of taping and then transcribing an interview. Wow. great job for your first post, dude.

I really learned a lot more about Surfrider. One issue that was not discussed is the group’s waiver of the San Diego sewer upgrade. See this recent post here. “Environmentalists Split Over Compromise With Mayor Sanders On Sewage Waiver”


OB Bill April 9, 2009 at 9:48 am

Regarding ocean desalination, if it’s going to be done, Surfrider wants it done with the best available technology and proper mitigation for the environmental impacts on the lagoon and coastal environment. The Carlsbad proposal is for the largest desal plant in the Western Hemisphere which will be precedent setting throughout California. Tons more info here:

Here’s a link to the press release that Surfrider sent out regarding the Point Loma Waste Water Treatment 301h waiver:

At the end of the day, water conservation is the #1 priority right now. How often do walk around OB in the morning and see drinking water flowing down the street from someone over-irrigating their lawn? I see it just about everyday. #2 (no pun intended) is to find more ways to reuse our wastewater such as indirect potable reuse which is proven to be safe and cost effective.


JEC March 29, 2010 at 10:23 am

Surfrider’s Board has adopted a policy in support of desalination as a concept but have opposed every desalination plan, failing to provide leadership. 10% of all the electricity used in California is used to move water. Our current system has a terrible impact on the environment. And yes, the Poseidon proposals for Carlsbad and Huntington Beach are both massive and private for profit operations. But if you want it done right – Surfrider needs to show the way, or someone else like Poseidon will.


OB Bill April 9, 2009 at 10:27 am

Paddle For Clean Water is an awareness event to remind everyone about the importance for clean water. Last year Surfrider focused on the Save Tresles campaign and Know Your H2O campaign at the event which garnered great media coverage.

San Diego population used to be much smaller so take into account our increased human impact on the coast when judging water quality. Regardless, here’s one way Surfrider has helped champion clean water, 80%+ decrease in City of SD sewage spills:

Victory! Surfrider v. City of San Diego (Sewage Spills/Infrastructure Suit)
Date: 2001-2007 (Settled via Consent Decree October 12, 2007)

In 2001 the Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper sued the City of San Diego for violating the federal Clean Water Act. The lawsuit focused on the City’s history of chronic sewage spills, which at the time of filing averaged almost a spill a day. In the lawsuit, Surfrider identified thousands of spills occurring over a five year period, with discharges totaling more than 45 million gallons into local waters. The goal of the lawsuit was first to spotlight the City’s shoddy spill record and lack of attention to the issue. Second, the suit sought to achieve reductions in spills by requiring the City to set an aggressive schedule for sewer pipe and pump station maintenance, repair, and replacement.

On May 22, 2007, the San Diego City Council approved a final settlement, or “Consent Decree”, with the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Coastkeeper and the U.S. EPA. The Consent Decree mandates that by 2013 the City will replace at least 450 miles of aged sewer pipes, upgrade and/or replace more than 20 pump stations, and continue implementation of an aggressive inspection and maintenance program. Ultimately, compliance with the Consent Decree will result in a public infrastructure investment of more than $1 billion. Since the year leading up to the lawsuit (2000), the City’s early implementation of the Consent Decree terms has resulted in an approximately 80% reduction in spills, including those during one of the rainiest years ever experienced in the region.

While Surfrider is extremely pleased with the outcome of this lawsuit and the significant reduction in sewage spills to date, the San Diego Chapter will continue to monitor the City to ensure compliance through the full term of the Consent Decree.

Decision making body: San Diego City Council

How the victory benefits the environment or improves access: Better maintenance and timely repair/replacement of sewer infrastructure means fewer spills and ultimately cleaner water.

Partner organization: San Diego Coastkeeper


jon April 9, 2009 at 9:37 am

Thanks Frank. It was really quite an interesting process. NOT as easy as it seemed at first!

The folks at Surfrider should have a response soon to some of the additional questions posed here. What a great community forum.

And Lane – The Paddle event is usually held sometime in September, so there’s a little bit of a wait. But it will be well worth it!


Nate Hipple March 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Woo Hoo! Can’t wait for the Paddle!


bodysurferbob April 9, 2009 at 10:14 am

Yes, this is a great forum. But I have an issue – and I mean no disrepect toward Stephanie or Surferider – but please somebody explan to me why the surf paddle every year is so important for clean water? Whether it is 50 people or 2000 – how does that translate into pressure for cleaner water? Has our water gotten any cleaner over these last 17 years? Donna Frey made a name for herself on the clean water issue (remember STOP?) But – and I love her – has our water gotten any cleaner?


OB Joe April 9, 2009 at 10:17 am

Bodysurfbob – I just think you’re jealous ’cause the surfers get all the attention whereas bodysurfers are ignored. Besides its a dying sport….


Dave Gilbert April 9, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Wow, two causes that are near and dear to my heart, animal rights versus San Diego’s water shortage. There HAS to be a way to address both causes in a positive and productive manner because both are needed here.


Gary Gilmore April 16, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I’ve often wondered why a desalination plant can’t be coupled with a nuclear power plant. After all, the by product of nuclear energy is heat and the necessary ingredient for desalination is heat. Seems like it could be a perfect coupling. It would save energy and consolidate the amount of coastline used for industrial purposes. Obviously I’m not the first person to come up with this idea. I just wonder why it hasn’t been done. Can anyone shed any light on this?


OB Joe April 17, 2009 at 6:02 am

Gary – on the issue of nuclear energy this blog ran a piece awhile back against nuclear power. Do you know which one I mean?


Frank Gormlie April 17, 2009 at 6:57 am

Gary and OB Joe – “A Plutonium Paradise? A Critique of Nuclear Power” – for the article by Richard Nadeau, go here.


Frank Gormlie March 25, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I wanted to repost some of Jon’s pieces because he’s getting married this week. Sort of a remembrance …


George March 25, 2010 at 5:54 pm

P.S. to the Fast Five:

What’s her favorite place to surf?


PSD March 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Cool piece first time around…nice choices thus far for the re-posts for newer readers, yo. And congrats to Jon!


DanaMo March 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for sharing/creating, Jon! Keep em coming! And props to Stefanie!


Jon June 23, 2010 at 10:10 am

In other news that does not involve tweakers, bums, homeless and vicious, ridiculous infighting amongst locals…..

Our own Stefanie Sekich had a blog entry on Huffington Post today! Check it out here:

Also, be sure to take a moment during the OB Street Fair this Saturday to come join a opeaceful protest next to the pier. These are happening all over the country and we have a great opportunity to get involved right in our own back yard! Way to go STEF!!


Frank Gormlie June 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

Thanks Jon, we’ll post it. Does she still live in OB do you know?


Jon June 23, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Yes, Stefanie is an OBcean and we should all be proud to have a local so active and passionate about preserving our oceans and coastlines. Here’s her bio as pulled from Huffington Post:

STEFANIE SEKICH is a Coastal Campaign Specialist working for the Global Headquarters of the Surfrider Foundation. She has over 13 years of experience working for environmental and social service nonprofits. Stefanie has worked on several environmental issues including: forestry, public lands management, ocean conservation, clean water, establishing Marine Protected Areas, and advocating for comprehensive environmental management to elected officials and resource agencies. Stefanie obtained her MA in Environmental Law and Policy from the University of Keele, in Staffordshire England; and earned a BA in Liberal Studies with emphasis in Environmental Studies. Stefanie also previously taught an environmental studies course for the University of Phoenix. During her time at the Surfrider Foundation, she has worked on several campaigns including the landmark “Save Trestles” campaign that successfully defeated a toll road from running through San Onofre State Beach. The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches through activism, research and education. Surfrider has over 60 Chapter and affiliates around the globe.


BeckyBytheBeach August 9, 2017 at 9:21 am

It is a shame that someone who lives ALL the way down in San Diego and claims to be an “environmentalist” would pen a settlement agreement with the TCA that pushes a non-environment friendly Toll Road straight through open land, over parks and sports fields, and directly adjacent to numerous schools. I wish that so-called “environmentalists” cared as much about children and other open space NOT directly adjacent to the ocean as they do about the ocean. Being an “environmentalist” doesn’t mean destroying ONE environment to save another. I guess we know what Stefanie’s payoff amount is to sell out an entire county (probably because she doesn’t live here?)….$28 million dollars….in case anyone is interested in what amount you would need to come up with to buy Stefanie off and make her forget exactly what being an “environmentalist” is REALLY all about. Shameful!


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