The seemingly innocent act of feeding birds near the Pier actually contributes significantly to bacterial contamination in the waters surrounding the iconic Santa Monica landmark prompting Council to unanimously approve new rules this week that prohibit feeding birds and animals in that area.
Back in June, the waters surrounding Santa Monica Pier were ranked as some of the most polluted in California, according to environmental non-profit organization Heal the Bay’s 2022-2023 Annual Beach & River Report.
“We are fortunate to have beaches that are beautiful and clean most days of the year, but unfortunately, there are times and conditions when the water at the beach makes folks sick,” Tracy Quinn, President and CEO of Heal the Bay said when the report was released. “The fact is, our coastal waters are regularly contaminated with pollutants such as chemicals, trash and fecal matter, which are harmful to human health and the ocean ecosystem.”
Feeding wild animals and birds has long been prohibited in most areas, from cities to rural areas and in state and national parks. Animals and birds can become accustomed to human food, negatively impacting their health and ability to forage and successfully find natural food sources, while also causing them to congregate in large numbers near human areas. This increases health and safety risks for humans and disease transmission. The proposed change to local rules would have a citywide impact.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Caroline Torosis made reference to the Los Angeles Times article that ran in October of last year about a homeless man named Augustine Hurtado who uses most of any money he manages to scrounge to buy bird seed to feed seagulls and pigeons on and around the Santa Monica Pier.
“I think many of us might have read in the LA Times … about the man who … sees that this is his God-given mission to feed these birds … He’s unhoused and he’s using all the money that he has to feed the birds. So, in putting forward this ordinance, what is our actual plan for this individual who appears to be a potentially large source of the feeding of the birds?” Torosis asked, adding, “I’m not quite sure that a monetary fine is going to deter him.”
Jonathan Maldonado, Civil Engineering Associate, Santa Monica Public Works Department, who gave a short presentation to the dais reiterated that at this time, no consideration had been made for Hurtado.
“Our overall goal was to improve the water quality. We can look into different options with this gentleman in particular, but at this time, our focus is to improve the water quality,” he said.
David White, City Manager chimed in, “Pragmatically, we will take whatever steps we can to work with the individual, I’ve read the story multiple times. The bigger picture is we’re trying to improve water quality, but we would obviously work with this person and not try to put them in a position of being punitive.”
With the assurance that Hurtado wasn’t going to be suddenly walloped with a pile of fines that he wouldn’t be able to pay, Torosis seemed satisfied and White added, “We’ll talk to code enforcement to make sure everyone’s aware.”
Councilmember Christine Parra inquired as to how the public would be made aware and Maldonado replied that research was being conducted into the most effective form of public outreach.
A motion was made by Councilmember Oscar de la Torre and seconded by Councilmember Phil Brock and passed unanimously 6-0 as Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete was absent for the entirety of this meeting.