SM PIER — It’s true: The devil is in the details, and they can cause a whale of a problem.

Tuesday morning, Santa Monica city officials participated in one of three press conferences statewide that revealed the new design of the Whale Tail Ecoplates, a specialty California license plate that helps fund ocean clean-ups and education.

The previous design, created in 1993 by noted marine artist Wyland, was retired July 1 because the artist asked for royalties amounting to 20 percent of the money raised in sales.

At least, that’s what Steve Creech, a media representative for the Wyland Foundation, saw when he turned on his computer Wednesday to check out the buzz around the new plates.

“I’d seen that they were doing a bunch of press conferences and started looking at the news coverage, and it was completely mischaracterized, everything that we believe in and stand for,” Creech said.

The artist requested that 20 percent for the use of the Wyland Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to “promoting, protecting and preserving the world’s ocean, waterways and marine life,” according to the foundation’s website.

Wyland receives no salary or money from the foundation, Creech said, so he would not have benefited personally from the influx of cash.

Instead, the money would have been used for one of the numerous causes that the foundation supports, which include interactive educational water mazes, a mobile learning center and grants to Southern California science teachers.

Santa Monica High School teacher Benjamin Kay won one such monetary award, and some 200,000 kids have gone through the mobile learning center, which includes a 40-person theater and educates people about river management, food webs and the environmental impacts of their actions.

Wyland made the request out of a sense of responsibility to his foundation, which was having difficulty raising funds as the economy continued to decline, Creech said.

To date, the Wyland Foundation has received one Whale Tail grant of $20,000 awarded in 2005.

The foundation applied for a second grant, but did not receive it.

“Wyland was doing what any responsible foundation president was doing, finding funding when the economy was not doing well,” Creech said.

Chris Parry, spokeswoman for the California Coastal Commission, which worked with Wyland on the original plate, acknowledged that the artist did request that the 20 percent in royalties be given to his foundation.

That was never mentioned in any materials disseminated to the media. The press materials made it seem as though Wyland intended to pocket the royalties.

The Coastal Commission’s lawyer, Hope Schmeltzer, told Parry that although the image did belong to Wyland, the state ran into legal problems giving royalties to anyone, regardless of the use, Parry said.

“It was not legally feasible for us to give him a royalty,” she said. “It was not about where the money was going, or if he had good intent, it was about the feasibility.”

That results from a condition built into the statute that created the license program that dictates where the money garnered from the sale of the plates should go, she said.

Currently, Wyland is in Hawaii, conversing with the governor there about clean water issues in the state.

Back on the ranch, Creech and the rest of the organization are putting the omission behind them.

“We’re moving forward,” he said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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