How the West was lost- Part III; ‘Clockwork Orange County’

stop the waiver

How the West was lost- Demise of the environmental groups of California, Part III; ‘Clockwork Orange County’

Already busy doing everything from saving Bolsa Chica to building Bluebird nesting boxes, Dr Jan Vandersloot took the Ocean Outfall Group show on the road. Accompanied by about a dozen faithful and fearless activists, he initiated what became known as the ‘city by city’ campaign to stop the sewage waiver Orange County was using to dump 240 million gallons a day into the ocean without meeting Clean Water Act minimum standards.

He took it inland, where city councils knew very little about the beach closures, and had to get their info from one among them who sat on the Orange County Sanitation District’s Board of Directors. We chose mainly those cities where the city council meetings were televised, and made our case to those citizens watching at home in horror, as we told them their councilperson was voting for a filthy ocean. These inner city people coudn’t afford to take 5 kids to Disneyland at 100 bucks a child, but they could enjoy a cheap day in the sun on the sand at Huntington, Newport or the Wedge. Vandersloots dozen explained it well, and in cities all over the county, angry people started to fill up the council meetings demanding and end to the waiver.

At the same time, Doug Korthof and I set up shop in front of the Orange County Sanitation District in front of 12 lanes of rush hour traffic at the 405 freeway. We had megaphones, flyers, a website ( and big straw hats with activist buttons. It took 14 months, but in the end, the crowds grew enormous and every car driving by held down their horn, pumped their fists in the air, and carried a STOP THE WAIVER bumper sticker!

Surfrider Foundation (then under Director Chris Evans) sentso many faxes to the district they were overloaded and collapsed! Finally, the sanitation district sent out a truck full of sewage sludge and dumped 6 tons in front of doug and me. It was all over the intersection! I got so sick from breathing it (it contained all the germs from 2.4 million people!) that I was knocked off the corner for about 2 weeks with puss pimples in my throat.

But by then it was too late for the waiver. We were all front page news, and on July 17th, 2002, the Board of Directors themselves acknowledged a ‘public relations problem’, and voted 13-12 not to seek renewal of the dreaded 301h waiver. I remember one of them asking me after the vote, “Now what are you going to do?” to which I answered “I’m going to Disneyland!”

One of the top activists from Orange County involved was Theresa Sears, who alerted me just this morning that the historic vote to kill the waiver was 10 years ago this July. Many of the heroes, Vandersloot, Irwin Haydock, Doug Korthof- are no longer with us.

Perhaps there should be a party?

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