Details remain scant, but local environmental leaders have voiced their unanimous support for pursuing a slate of new environmental programs in and around the Santa Monica Bay using funds provided by last year’s federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

During its Aug. 18 meeting, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission’s (SMBRC) Governing Board voted unanimously, 23-0, to approve a work plan outlining eight projects to protect the Santa Monica Bay’s resources and bring more equitable coastal access to underserved communities around Los Angeles, utilizing a $4.5 million federal grant, spread out over the next five years.

The SMBRC Governing Board includes 28 voting members representing various agencies and offices with a stake in the future of the Santa Monica Bay; not all voting members were present at the latest meeting, but all 23 members in attendance signed off on the initial plans.

Those projects include an estimated $5.6 million project to restore the Santa Monica breakwater (mostly relying on other SMBRC funding), which proponents believe will result in habitat restoration on the Santa Monica coast as well as infrastructure protection from wave action, which is projected to strengthen due to climate change.

Dean Kubani, chair of the Santa Monica Commission on Sustainability, Environmental Justice, and the Environment and former chief sustainability officer, called into the meeting to voice his support for the proposal, while also praising the commission’s work preserving natural sand dunes near the Annenberg Community Beach House (a project by The Bay Foundation, which is associated with SMBRC).

“I’m specifically very excited about the Santa Monica Breakwater Rocky Intertidal Preserve proposal,” Kubani said at the meeting. “I see that as a multi-benefit project similar to the dune projects that will not only help to protect Santa Monica Pier from storm surges and sea level rise but also provide fantastic habitat — that rocky intertidal habitat — that we need along the coast to help protect some very threatened species.” Kubani said he hoped kelp reforestation may also be in the future for that intertidal zone.

Later, Kubani offered his help to “shepherd through any approvals with the City of Santa Monica” through his position as chair of the sustainability commission.

There was one member of the public who raised concerns about some possible side effects of the proposal.

“A breakwall could negatively impact water quality,” local resident Duncan Burns cautioned, citing the Santa Monica Pier’s consistently poor water quality scores and high bacteria levels — ”which especially impacts underserved communities from Los Angeles — all over LA — that come to access to the watersports and activities near the Pier.”

Board Member Jim Stahl of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board took up Burns’ concerns when it came time for commissioners to comment.

“We haven’t had a lot of rain and the bacteria levels remain high in these areas,” Stahl said, later adding, “I think a lot of it has to do with birds.”

Stahl requested that the SMBRC pay close attention to addressing dry weather high bacteria levels.

Heal the Bay representative and SMBRC Governing Board member Annalisa Moe also agreed with Stahl and Burns that water quality and circulation were key issues, or what she called “legitimate concerns.”

In response, The Bay Foundation CEO Tom Ford said the project, still in its concept phase, would be conducting sonar mapping, biological surveys and studies to address any potential issues before final plans are drawn up.

“I’m not trying to evade anything about the water quality or the circulation, I just don’t want to get ahead of my skis,” Ford said, adding, “I’ve certainly been around conversations [and] proposals to try to permeate other breakwaters to allow for increased circulation. I’ve seen proposals by a number of agencies, local and far away, to insert pipes through breakwaters or notch them to allow for more water circulation.” But, Ford added, he didn’t yet know what the particular issues may prove to be. 

“I appreciate what you’re saying and I appreciate Mr. Burns showing up and presenting his concerns about the subject,” Ford said. “I agree they’re all verifiable concerns.”

SMBRC Governing Board members were given until Oct. 26 to approve the work plan, which will be revisited every September throughout its five-year timeline. Final approval for the fiscal year 2022-23 projects is set to be discussed at the Sept. 15, 2022, meeting. If approved, The Bay Foundation will submit the work plan to the U.S. EPA for approval prior to implementation.