The Santa Monica City Council Tuesday approved an ordinance to prohibit the distribution of food to birds and animals at beaches and the Pier in an effort to improve water quality. 

“Studies have identified high bacteria levels in the ocean just south of the Santa Monica Pier, attributed to pigeon droppings,” testified Jonathan Maldonado, engineer in the public works department. The recent Beach Report Card by the non-profit advocacy and volunteer organization Heal the Bay noted the unusually high bacteria levels.

The update is intended to work holistically with infrastructure investments made by the city to reduce bacterial pollution. Earlier this year, the city installed netting under the pier to discourage pigeon roosting and nesting.  

Other efforts to address water quality in the Santa Monica Bay include the 2018 Clean Beaches Project, which captures urban runoff and rainwater from the nearby downtown area and diverts it to a 1.6-million-gallon cistern adjacent to the Pier. The Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project (SWIP), which was completed last year, also captures stormwater, diverting urban runoff and stormwater pollution away from the Santa Monica Bay. 

While the Council unanimously recognized the need to clean the water, Councilmember Caroline Torosis had questions about enforcement of the ordinance. Torosis was particularly concerned about a local celebrity Augustine, an unhoused individual who spends his time and resources feeding birds on the beach. Augustine has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times print and video editions.

“We’re not trying to criminalize bird feeding, right?” asked Torosis.

After being assured by Maldanado and City Manager David White that the ordinance was a tool to educate people and purify the water, Torosis joined the rest of the council in voting for the measure.

For more information on the ordinance, see the staff report, or you can view the council meeting here.  

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