Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dockweiler State Beach

Photo;Shandra Beri

In 1892 the city of Los Angeles acquired 200 acres of prime seaside real estate, part of which is now known as Dockweiler State Beach.

In 1911 El Segundo was selected as the site for the second oil refinery in California (at that time an early incarnation of Standard Oil, now known as Chevron). The Chevron El Segundo Refinery is the largest refinery on the West Coast of the United States and if you check out their website, you get the impression that they make rose petals and baby laughter in that plant- but if you look at a list of California's six worst greenhouse gas emitters (as compiled by the California Air Resources Board), the Chevron Refinery, El Segundo with an astonishing output 3,603,446 metric tons per year comes in at number four.

In a second ecological blow, until 1925, raw sewage from the entire city of Los Angeles was discharged untreated directly into Santa Monica Bay from essentially the same location. In 1950 the city of Los Angeles opened the Hyperion Treatment Plant aimed at improving the quality of effluent dumped into the Pacific (presumably because the esthetics of human fecal matter constantly washing ashore was negatively impacting a newborn tourist industry...). Still, Santa Monica Bay suffered from the continuous discharge of 25 million pounds of waste-water solids (a nice way of saying more poop...) per month for decades. Samples of the ocean floor where sludge had been discharged for 30 years demonstrated that the only living creatures were some sea worms and a type of sewage tolerant species of clam. In 1980, (the moment the city fathers figured it all out...) Los Angeles 'heroically' launched a massive sludge-out to full secondary program to capture all biosolids and presumably keep them from entering the Bay. Personally, I wouldn't let my dog swim in in it.

Skipping back a bit, October 1, 1928 Los Angeles Municipal Airport, originally known then as Mines Field, subsequently known as LAX begins operation with the flight paths directly over Dockweiler. Though for years residents as far as 5 miles away have stated there are days when they are enveloped in jet fuel fumes, research only began in 1999 to study the effects of pollution from LAX as it operates today. Supposedly it is the most extensive airport pollution study of it's kind- but no results just yet! :-D

All of this is to say that poor El Segundo never stood a chance once the greedy Anglo humans arrived.  Standing on this beach one hundred plus years on looking at the beauty of the Pacific being eclipsed by the toxic reality of the surrounding environment is one of the most heart rending experiences imaginable. The fumes from the refinery, treatment plant and jet fuel are suffocating. The noise from the aircraft landing and taking off right above your head is deafening. The sight of the families from the inner city with small children playing in the deceptively blue surf and roasting marshmallows in one of the beach fire-pits is enough to make you cry.


I know there are many many places on the earth much worse off than Dockweiler, but it's the carefully cultivated illusion of pristine, healthy sky, air and water that is so very depressing. That pretty little bike path winding it's way along the shore is like a magician drawing your eye away from his deception.


An ironic and appropriate side note is that a key scene in the 1973 film Soylent Green was shot at the Hyperion Treatment Plant. It portrayed the factory that cleverly produced bland yet nutritious "Soylent Green" wafers that were made from the flesh of...well, you know.

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