by Jon-Edward Reid
I didn’t think I could do it, but I went to bed at 9:30pm Tuesday night, which is early for me. I set the alarm on my cellular phone for 3am, and quickly fell asleep. A busy tomorrow was in my future.
My biorhythmic natural alarm awoke me, at 2am Wednesday. I stayed in bed, restfully meditating, until the cellular alarm went off an hour later. I dressed and groomed, quietly climbing the stairs to the kitchen, consuming a breakfast of donut holes and coffee in the dimmest light possible, so as not to awaken my roommates.
At 3:45am, I left the house, walking the 10-minute trek to the Circle K on Morro Road to meet my ride. Half way there, I realized I had forgotten to take money for the trip. I dug in my pockets and felt a dollar’s worth of coins. I would have to go hungry or depend on the generosity of my fellow activists. It was too late to go back.
I made it to the Circle K at 3:57am, precisely as my friend and ride, Molly Johnson, pulled up in her car. I got inside, and we drove to the park and ride on Curbaril Avenue, where we picked up ubiquitous activist Eric Greening. Before I knew it, we were on Highway 101, traveling south to San Luis Obispo, our first stop on our way to the California Coastal Commission meeting in Santa Monica.
We drove through deserted streets in San Luis Obispo, arriving at the Madonna Inn at 4:30am. The bus we had chartered was supposed to arrive at 4:45, and several other cars soon surrounded us. We knew we had been instructed to park somewhere, but we couldn’t remember where, until a nighttime security guard for the Madonna Inn instructed us to park between the restaurant and the gas station, on the southern border of the property.
We waited and waited. By 4:50am, our bus hadn’t shown. Molly texted Mandy Davis, the leader of our COAST (Citizens Opposing Acoustic Seismic Testing) Alliance, who immediately texted back that the bus was en route from its original pick up in Morro Bay, and would be there in five minutes. Mandy must be a good judge of time; by 4:55 the bus had pulled up to where we were parked.
We boarded one by one, giving our names to the transportation coordinator, Marla Jo Bruton. The bus had a seating capacity of about 50, but we left at 5:05am, with it being only 2/3 full. Our bus driver, John, gave us a very smooth ride, and by the time we were in Pismo Beach, I was able to fall asleep for two hours.
When I awoke, the sun was rising and we were in Gaviota. It was incredibly serene and beautiful, with a placid ocean, and it was so clear we could see three of the Channel Islands; from northwest to southeast they were Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa. I thought of the original Chumash inhabitants, who lived on both the islands and the mainland. Some of their descendants would be joining us in Santa Monica later today.
We stopped in Goleta at 7:20 am. We were supposed to have picked up some Surfrider members, but they phoned to say they were getting another ride, so we unloaded and went into the local McDonald’s for breakfast. I debated on whether to spend my change on a breakfast burrito or another cup of coffee; the burrito won out. We debated on the wisdom of eating processed food from a corporate restaurant, but our hunger trumped our judgment. By 7:40 am, the bus departed for our final destination, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.
When we reached Oxnard at about 8:15 am, the bus headed towards Highway 1 and the Malibu coastline, in an attempt to avoid the notorious Los Angeles area traffic. The decision was the right one, and within an hour, after watching an increasing layer of urban smog on the Pacific horizon, we rolled in the auditorium parking lot.
We were greeted by a flurry of activity outside the venue of the California Coastal Commission meeting. There were other environmental groups in addition to the COAST Alliance there to protest PG&E’s proposed seismic testing project, most notably Greenpeace and Surfrider, who had set up tables. Cameron Pollem, the young newscaster from San Luis Obispo’s station KSBY was there, as were newscasters from the Los Angeles area stations, and several newspaper reporters. Also present was San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson.
Those of us who wished to address the California Coastal Commission in opposition of the PG&E proposed project, during public comment for the COAST Alliance, filled out speaker cards and gave them to Mandy Davis. Several of us walked into the meeting, which was already in progress. I was surprised to see that most of the seats in the audience were already occupied. The commission was quickly going though the pre-PG&E agenda. A proposed project far to the north, on the Mendocino County coastline, was being discussed when I walked in. There were a few people speaking in opposition to this project; their numbers would pale in comparison to those speaking against the PG&E project.
At about 10:30am, after a break, item #13-B on the California Coastal Commission agenda, the PG&E proposed seismic study, commenced. The commission called upon their staff to present a report on the project, which was read by staff member Cassidy Teufel.
I know I’m getting older, because the students I ride the RTA bus with to Cuesta College keep looking younger. Cassidy Teufel looked young enough to still be in college. If he hadn’t been wearing a tie, or been as clean shaven, he could have passed as a member of Surfrider or Greenpeace, or maybe as a singer in a boy band. But Cassidy was seriously all business, describing in detail why the California Coastal Commission staff recommended denial of the PG&E seismic testing permit in their report, which was made public last Friday, November 9, 2012. To be specific, the project’s benefits failed to over-ride three specific sections of California coastal protection standards, per the staff’s review of the final Environmental Impact Report for the project.
Following the staff presentation, the coastal commissioners each spoke, all nine detailing whom they communicated with about the project and when. Then it was PG&E’s turn to present their case. The corporation’s representative, Marc Krausse, re-iterated a now familiar story about the project being driven by governmental agencies for seismic assurance at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, a requirement for renewal of the plant’s license. Krausse claimed the methodology of high acoustic seismic testing to be state of the art, the same for the vessel proposed to tow the surveillance equipment. He repeated the proposed monitoring efforts to detect potential marine animal disturbance. He did drop one minor bombshell, stating that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) had been signed the previous evening by PG&E and representatives of local commercial fishermen’s associations, for monetary compensation of lost income during the proposed 17-day length of the project.
This came as a shock to COAST Alliance members, who had just recently been re-assured that the fishermen would not sign an eleventh hour MOU. The signing of the MOU was quickly confirmed by cellular phone. It came as much of a surprise to the fishermen who were there to speak in opposition of the project as it did to those of us who are environmentalists.
“F_ _ k!”, Mandy Davis exclaimed upon hearing the confirmation of the MOU news, in a voice which was audible to those sitting in the back of the room. This proved to be our darkest hour. We weren’t assured of it, but a bright dawn was in the not-too-distant future.
Following the PG&E presentation, a group of community and organization representatives spoke regarding their feelings toward the project. Supervisor Gibson referenced the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ recent letter to the California Coastal Commission in opposition to the project for “conditions which have not been met”. Gibson also mentioned his own personal objections to the vessel being proposed for the project. Following Gibson, members of nationally recognized environmental groups spoke against the project, including, but not limited to: Chad Nelson of Surfrider, Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Coalition, and Andrew Christie of the local (Santa Lucia) chapter of the Sierra Club, whose opposition to the project sounded stronger than it had in the past.
It was then time to break for lunch. It was 12:30pm, and California Coastal Commission Chair Mary Shallenberger advised that the meeting would resume promptly at 1:15. Carol Reich, the mother of my life partner, Nicole Reich, and a resident of Santa Monica, had arrived to do lunch with me. We walked to the nearest sandwich shop, only a few blocks from the Civic Auditorium. Carol treated me to lunch. The “Bacon Bomb” sandwich and ice coffee I had would carry me though the afternoon, with help from the blueberries Molly Johnson had given me shortly before our arrival in Santa Monica.
While eating, I conversed with Jerry Rubin, a legendary activist from Santa Monica, who was attending the hearing. He told me of his efforts to save the Civic Center Auditorium from destruction, and to preserve the nuclear chain sculpture in front of it. He is the namesake of a famous radical from the East Coast during the 1960s. Jerry reminded me that I am the namesake of a famous radical from the 1910s. John Reed was the ex-patriot American journalist who covered the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, writing “Ten Days That Shook the World”. He was portrayed by Warren Beatty in the Oscar-winning movie “Reds”. He spelled his last name differently than mine, but I left the luncheon inspired and more impassioned towards protecting the ocean and its inhabitants than before.
The afternoon California Coastal Commission meeting session started promptly at 1:15 pm. There were about 175 people who had turned in speaker cards for public comment regarding the PG&E seismic testing item. We were told that we would be limited to one minute each, and that we could give other speakers our time so that they could speak longer and consolidate our issues.
First to speak were the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, who were given several minutes as a group for comments. Fred Collins, Crystal Baker and others spoke eloquently about the relationship between their indigenous culture and the ocean and its inhabitants. Their relationship to dolphins is particularly close. Dolphins are believed to be transformed human souls who fell into the ocean while attempting to cross the rainbow bridge at the beginning of time. And remote San Nicolas Island, the furthest Channel Island from the mainland, where a Chumash girl named Juana Maria lived alone for years, was known as “The Island of the Blue Dolphin”.
Following the Chumash, the general public gave comment. Some people represented the concerns of local environmental groups to which they belong, notably Hunter Kilpatrick of the California Gray Whale Coalition, Justin Taylor-Dobson (who looks remarkably like the late Jim Morrison of “The Doors”) of Save the Whales, and Kenneth Perry and Nick Valenzuela of the southern California chapter of Greenpeace. Some speakers spoke for themselves, and the impact the project would have on them. A man whose name I don’t remember wore a buzzer, which went off very loudly after he finished speaking. He advised the coastal commissioners that this would be the sound we’d be hearing every 15 seconds for 17 days if the project was approved, as muffled audience laughter filled the background.
"I don’t think that’s funny!” Commission Chair Mary Shallenberger shouted, advising the audience she would not tolerate such exhibitions from future speakers. The ethereal ice that formed in the room was quickly broken when another speaker, Andrew Brown, showed up with someone dressed in an animal costume. Brown translated the creature’s hand signals. The animal asked the commission to deny the project, for the sentient beings who cannot speak, then stated that he thought Commission Chair Shallenberger was attractive.
“Give that man another ten minutes!” Commission Chair Shallenberger said, and the room warmed noticeably.
Towards the end of the public comment period, members of the COAST Alliance were called to the dais in groups of four. Members Richard Mansfield, Anne Haneline, Courtney Ramey, Andy Vandervelt and Tim Crowley graciously donated their speaking time to others, so that common interests could be elaborated by one person. The rest of us spoke, including, but not limited to Molly Johnson, Anita Henry, Sandra Lakeman, Chrissy-Anne Obsorn, Carol Georgi, David Georgi, Julie Tacker, Mandy Davis, Mark Tognazzini, Richard Saduski, Jeremiah O’Brien, Ben Terra, Pete Kelley, Eric Greening, Aaron Kirby (a twelve-year old, speaking on behalf of youth, and doing so in a most admirable and mature voice), Julie Thomas, Alexandra Steinicke, Marla Jo Bruton, Al Barrow, Jeff Walters (dressed as his pirate alter ego, Captain Starwise) and myself. I was asked to read a letter to the California Coastal Commission from Drew Jacobson of the Morro Bay Liveaboard Association, a homeowners’ group who reside on their watercraft (what we used to call houseboats) in Morro Bay. Due to time constraints, I had to paraphrase the letter and not read it verbatim.
The gist of the letter was to raise awareness to the danger the proposed testing would pose to human liveaboard residents in Morro Bay, due to the amplified sound from the portions of the crafts which are underwater. The projection of sound would be above the maximum threshold in decibels recommended for human workplace exposure, under OSHA regulations. This would render the 50 or so liveaboard residents homeless for the 17-day duration of the project, with no compensation being considered by PG&E. I had 16 seconds left to conclude my public comment, so I recited the final line from a poem “The Surfer’s Prayer”, which I have on a refrigerator magnet, “…I only wish to dance with you a short while”. I finished by saying that PG&E proposes to do a lot more to the ocean than to dance on a wave. We’d been advised to refrain from applause or jeers and contain our approval by raised hands and disapproval by thumbs down. I was oblivious to hand signals as I walked back to my seat, but facial expressions from my friends in the audience made me think I’d done okay.
The public comments concluded with a Chumash woman and Amanda Wallner from the Sierra Club. We speakers raised awareness to the hazards of the proposed project to all marine life, from marine mammals to fish to sea and shore birds to plankton to human surfers and liveaboards, to the potential loss of an economic income to commercial fisherman (the fishermen who spoke effectively stated that the last minute MOU was a desperate attempt by some of their members to secure money for their families to survive should the project be approved), and the potential loss of local tourist income should large-scale loss of marine life occur. Also discussed was the inability for marine organisms in Morro Bay to escape from the seismic blasting, as the bay geographically opens to the area of the proposed testing.
Then it was time for rebuttal. Cassidy Teufel of California Coastal Commission staff, again exhibiting a maturity beyond his years, shot down PG&E’s earlier assertion that the seismic testing had been done elsewhere in the world with no substantiated harm. The other such testing, per Teufel, had been done further out to sea, in deeper water, with less compacted arrays of air guns, in locations so offshore that tracking dead marine life washing up on beaches would be difficult to trace to the specific project. PG&E’s “monitoring program” for signs of marine life distress was shot down as being inadequate, due to reduced visibility during night, adverse weather and high waves.
Next, it was PG&E’s turn for rebuttal. Marc Krausse simply asked the commission to give a simple yes or no vote without conditions for the seismic testing permit. He stated the project was necessary to assure seismic safety at Diablo Canyon. The commission then called a break. Chair Mary Shallenberger hinted that when they would reconvene in fifteen minutes, the commission would render a decision on the permit that the audience would likely find favorable.
When the meeting reconvened following the break, Commissioner Bochco proposed a motion, which was seconded, for approval. Upon hearing moans from the audience, Ms. Bochco clarified that her motion was for approval of her staff’s recommendation to deny the seismic testing permit. Ms. Bochco went on to praise PG&E, but remained adamant that her motion was to deny the permit.
One by one, the eight other commissioners present weighed in with their thoughts regarding the motion. It got better and better for everyone in the audience opposing the project. The commissioners were more and more critical of PG&E. Commissioner Martha McClure, representing the Humboldt County area, stated the price of $64,000,000. For the testing, which had been slated to be paid by PG&E’s rate payers, would be better spent to close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, and invest in alternate renewable energy, like solar, wind and wave.
When the commissioners finished speaking, Chair Shallenberger recapped that she and the other eight commissioners were unanimous in their support of the motion to accept their staff’s recommendation, and that the permit would not be issued to PG&E!!! She cautioned PG&E not to come back with a reworked permit application, but to rely on their previous low-level seismic studies of the coastal areas off Diablo Canyon (which by the way are suspected of causing some adverse environmental impact), and other previously published seismic studies. She concluded with a statement that we knew all along; that the results of any seismic study would not make the nuclear power plant any stronger, and she thanked everyone who provided public comment for their input!
Loud cheering erupted from the audience. “Be quiet!” a female member of the California Coastal Commission staff shouted. But Chair Shallenberger adjourned the meeting without echoing that sentiment. We had won!!!!
We went outside, where the newscasters rushed to interview members of the various organizations who had provided public comment. I texted Nicole, who texted back that she had just seen me pass the camera on locally broadcast television news. There were plenty of hugs and group pictures taken, including several pictures taken of COAST Alliance members by our fellow member, professional photographer Abe Perlstein, who graciously provided his camera skills. The mood was indescribably euphoric.
Then it was time to board the charter bus for the trip back to San Luis Obispo County. I embraced Kenneth Perry from Greenpeace, exchanging “thank you” for our groups’ mutual support. I thanked Cassidy Teufel for his professional staff presentation. Just before the COAST Alliance members boarded the bus, Supervisor Gibson acknowledged each of us. Within a few days, he would disclose his involvement in an extra-marital affair, eerily similar to that revealed by General Patreus, which now clouds his future on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
The bus returned to San Luis Obispo County, following the same route taken to get to Santa Monica, but in reverse. I thought about Marc Krausse, PG&E’s spokesperson, the only person to speak in favor of the corporation’s seismic testing project during the meeting. I almost felt sorry for him. There were some other “suit dudes” in the audience, whom I thought were from PG&E, but none of them spoke.
The bus stopped at a liquor store along Highway 1, in Malibu. COAST Alliance members bought champagne, Asti Spumonte, beer and Jack Daniels, which were freely shared when we got back on the bus. There was sharing of food, too, and speeches, and an atmosphere of celebratory revelry.
The celebration lasted until we reached Ventura, where the bus stopped at a strip mall, so that riders could purchase dinner from a variety of fast food establishments. Pete Kelley shared a delicious Asian noodle dish with me. I’d already been given a ham sandwich to eat on the trip from Santa Monica, so my COAST Alliance friends had been good to me; despite having no money, my belly was full and I was feeling gratitude and no pain. The revelry quieted down inside the bus when we left Ventura, and several of us were able to sleep until he bus pulled into the Madonna Inn in Santa Monica, shortly after 10:00pm.
Those of us with cars at the Madonna Inn got off the bus, exchanging fond farewells with our comrades who were riding on to Morro Bay. Molly, Eric and I got into her car and she drove us to Atascadero, dropping us off at our respective homes, before heading north to her home in San Miguel. It was 10:45pm and I was able to watch KSBY’s 11:00pm news. The California Coastal Commission meeting and the decision to deny PG&E the seismic testing permit were the leadoff story, but the camera footage was limited to the inside of the meeting room, while the meeting was in progress, and showed no COAST Alliance members up close.
It is now Tuesday morning, the 20th of November, 2012, six days after the California Coastal Commission meeting. The impact of what the COAST Alliance, with the help of numerous other environmental groups, was able to achieve, has permeated me. I realize now that what we accomplished, through our grass roots networking, was nothing short of epic! It may not have been as visibly pivotal as the march through Selma, Alabama, but in a quiet way, it stands on its own merits. Collectively, environmentalists and fishermen were able to bring down an industry giant, peeling back the layers of the onion, revealing the illusion of corporate personhood, exposing in the seismic study the selfish, all for profit mentality, and with governmental help, Nature won! The seismic testing, the methodology proposed incidently being also used to detect undersea petroleum deposits, will not occur. We achieved media coverage locally and nationally, and our success can generate a momentum which may prevent this type of testing from occurring in other parts of the world (it is currently being proposed in the Atlantic Ocean, off the American East Coast). This may be the start of a new paradigm, speaking up for sentient and non-sentient beings who haven’t the ability to do so themselves, although I think the humpback whales’ appearance off of Avila Beach this past summer was an attempt to do so.
My hope is that this California Coastal Commission ruling sets a new precedent, in which the Earth and the oceans within and their resident wildlife are considered before corporate gain, our own version of a Pachamama Alliance. Common sense dictates that if the risk of a project outweighs its benefits, the project should be denied. The California Coastal Commission and their staff are to be commended for using common sense. And for us in the COAST Alliance, with help from Greenpeace, Surfrider and other environmental group friends, I think what we accomplished last Wednesday, November 14, 2012, will be remembered for a very long time. For me, this has been one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. If my children chose to have children of their own, this story is an achievement worth passing down to them…
Jon-Edward Reid is a local writer and is currently working on a biography of Gavin Arthur, who used to live in the Oceano Dunes and in Halcyon. Jon can be reached at