Michael Smolens: ‘Howard Wayne – Along With Donna Frye — Set California’s Standard for Ocean Water Quality’

by on November 15, 2023 · 4 comments

in California, Environment, History

Former Democratic Assemblyman Passes

By Michael Smolens / San Diego Union-Tribune /Nov. 15, 2023

Howard Wayne had a license plate that read “AB 411.”

That probably meant nothing to the uninitiated, but those who knew the former Assembly member certainly got it.

In 1997, Wayne’s Assembly Bill 411 to require and standardize ocean water-quality testing in California was approved by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson.

The landmark achievement was all the more remarkable because it was Wayne’s first year as a legislator. It’s not every day a freshman lawmaker gets a bill with statewide impact passed — one that continues to resonate today.

“He was very proud of that,” Mary Lundberg, Wayne’s wife, said this week.

Wayne’s life and times have come into sharp focus following his death on Nov. 2, his 75th birthday. His sudden passing, resulting from a pneumonic infection of his lung, has shocked and saddened San Diego’s political world.

Though term limits restricted his legislative tenure to only six years, Wayne was a well-known figure in policy and political circles before, during and after his time in Sacramento. He was a deputy state attorney general, active with the San Diego County Democratic Party, ran for City Council, served on the county grand jury and engaged in community and neighborhood issues.

He will be remembered for many things, perhaps none more than moving to protect the coastal water quality. Ironically, that initially wasn’t on Wayne’s radar, even though other environmental matters were.

His growing concern about polluted runoff into the ocean underscored his approach as an elected representative.

He listened to voters and constituents — after all, he ran in and served the 78th Assembly District, which included much of the coastline. Also, he knew what he didn’t know — and would seek out people who had knowledge in areas he didn’t.

Donna Frye on the campaign trail

“It was at the surfers’ insistence — Donna Frye in particular — that he did this,” Lundberg said. “. . . They were getting sick.”

In a moment that has become legendary in San Diego political and surfing circles, Assembly candidate Wayne in 1996 went to Harry’s Surf Shop in Pacific Beach, which was run by Frye, who was and is married to internationally acclaimed surfer and surfboard shaper Skip Frye.

Donna Frye had been elevating concerns about coastal pollution, particularly from storm drain runoff. She had mapped where the drains emptied into the ocean and took Wayne to look at one.

“A lot of people didn’t even know where they were,” Frye said this week. “He was amazed. He familiarized himself very quickly.”

He asked what was needed, and Frye said a uniform monitoring process, at least at the outset.

“If I get elected, I’ll do it,” Wayne told her.

“A week after he was elected,” Frye continued, “he called and said, ‘Bring your legislation.’”

That was something Frye didn’t exactly have, so she teamed up with like minds to put together a proposal and then worked on the draft of AB 411 with Wayne and others.

“Howard Wayne was one of those rare individuals that you meet in that he kept his word,” Frye said. “He loved his work and loved making people’s lives better.”

In February 1997, Wayne, Frye and Scott Peters, an environmental attorney, discussed the bill at a well-attended news conference at a La Jolla beach, according to an article in San Diego Jewish World by Donald H. Harrison, a former San Diego Union political reporter.

Frye went on to serve on the San Diego City Council, as did Peters, who now represents a large portion of coastal San Diego in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It was one of the most remarkable things that ever happened regarding water quality, in my opinion,” Frye said of AB 411.

Before Wayne’s bill, such measures weren’t required for the state’s coastal counties. Eventually, other regulations and laws led to expanded testing and water-quality improvements.

“It’s probably taken for granted now,” Frye said.

Contamination signs placed along San Diego County’s approximately 60 miles of beaches tripled after Wayne’s legislation took effect, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Besides advising beach-goers about bacterial contamination, the law was designed to collect data about pollution hot spots. Thanks partly to the information, California has developed projects that reduce storm runoff to beaches and remove more pollution from those flows.

Getting AB 411 through the Legislature and signed by Wilson was far from a given. Democrats had the majority, but it was not as big as it is today. Republicans were generally opposed and had more leverage then.

Wilson, the former San Diego mayor, also was resistant, but Wayne negotiated with administration officials and made a key change to secure the governor’s support. Wayne included a provision in his bill that made coastal water testing optional if the state didn’t pay for it. Sometimes, it was touch and go as to whether the money would be there.

The bill also left it up to state scientists to develop details of the testing program.

Battles will continue over coastal water pollution and what kind of testing should take place. But as for monitoring ocean water quality in general, it seems there’s no going back for California.

Lundberg said Wayne always felt being a legislator “was the best job he ever had.”

In 2009, Wayne told the Union-Tribune: “The coastline is really the crown jewel of San Diego. I wanted to … improve public health and improve what is such a natural draw here.”

Lundberg said she and Wayne loved California’s natural wonders, but they didn’t hang out at the beach a lot.

“He was very fair skinned and was not a beach bunny,” she chuckled, “and neither was I.”

“Celebration of Life”: Some of Wayne’s longtime friends will gather to remember the former Assembly member Saturday, Nov.18  at 1 p.m. at Elijah’s Restaurant, 7061 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego, 92111.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mateo November 15, 2023 at 1:59 pm

Donna Frye and Howard Wayne were the last real Democrats.
Donna Frye should be lionized with a life sized bronze statue in Pacific Beach.


Frank Gormlie November 15, 2023 at 4:55 pm

I’m really glad Michael devoted his column to Wayne, an unappreciated local Democrat and old-school type politico. I didn’t recall all this history and Smolens helps set it straight, and dusts off some old stories of Wayne, Frye and Scott Peters.


Donnar November 16, 2023 at 4:13 am

I remember Wayne from community meetings and Democrat clubs. He was so kind and level-headed and he spoke out for his community. He will be missed.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman November 16, 2023 at 6:28 pm

I am so sorry to hear this unexpected and sad news. Howard Wayne was intelligent, community-minded, the rarest kind of Democrat one could be proud of and grateful for. He once correctly counseled a novice candidate about campaign consultants and unscrupulous campaign consultants — invaluable information for newbies. Rest in peace, Howard, we will remember you.


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