Poo Fighters

Once a friend of land developers, Garry Brown has joined the battle to keep OCs beaches free of the brown stuff

And he has since remarried. Garry and Ellen Brown live with Austin in a Huntington Harbour condominium.

With a partner, Brown opened a yacht brokerage in Newport Beach a few years ago. After waking up in Huntington Harbour and then spending the rest of the day in Newport Harbor, something struck him. "I'd get irate whenever there was a sewage spill in Garden Grove and we'd get the signs saying not to go in the water in Huntington Harbour," he says.

Brown's anger over inland sewage spills shifted to all-out rage when his son began regularly falling ill—including vomiting and diarrhea—after scraping the sides of boats in Newport Harbor to earn extra cash.

Brown started looking into environmental groups. He met with a member of Santa Monica BayKeeper and liked what he heard. "No one was doing anything close to what they did in Santa Monica here in Orange County," he said.

With Ellen's help, he decided he'd form Orange County CoastKeeper, an independent organization affiliated with the national WaterKeeper Alliance. In exchange for the name—and, more important, access to foundation grants —Brown had to do "an equivalent of a master thesis of Orange County's environmental problems." What he learned pissed him off even more. Through research, he identified the top 10 toxic hot spots in Orange County. No. 1 was Seal Beach or neighboring Newport Beach's Rhine Channel. Seven were in Huntington Beach, where months later, a bacteria scare would close the beach for weeks.

"When development was going crazy in Southern California in the '70s and '80s, all of a sudden, we [developers] wrote the book for development, fees and infrastructure financing," Brown says. "All of a sudden, cities could not handle all this development without fees for schools, for police, for fire protection, for parks."

He now realizes that dealing with urban runoff and storm water should have entered the equation.

"In all those discussions, no one ever mentioned storm runoff. It wasn't even on the list. No one ever looked at the big picture. Now that we have 4.5 million people in the Orange County watershed [which extends from Big Bear Lake to the coast], we're looking back in retrospect and saying, 'Oh, shit, we have a problem.' I don't see why taking care of that problem cannot be added to the potpourri of development issues.

"The precedent has been set: the impact of the developer is well-known. Twenty years ago, it wasn't on the list. It has to be on the list. I think one of the misnomers that we were under then was all the studies that said new development pays its way. I think, in retrospect, we were wrong. When you look at perpetual care and maintenance, I don't think any development pays its way. I think that was a falsehood we said then because we didn't look at the picture on a large enough scale."

The old Garry Brown would have shot this guy with his gun collection.

The WaterKeeper Alliance dates back to 1983, when John Cronin, a commercial fisherman in New York's Hudson River, started going broke. Fish were disappearing due to pollution, so, along with other fishermen and folk singer Pete Seeger, Cronin formed Hudson RiverKeeper. The group traveled the river sampling water gushing out of pipelines and discovered the Hudson's pollution had its source in the region's chemical plants.

Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, the public can sue the government to correct environmental issues, but River Keeper found few attorneys who would take their case, and those who would charged more than fishermen could afford. Then Robert Kennedy Jr. stepped in and took the case for free.

Like Brown, Kennedy found the Keepers after an embarrassing arrest and subsequent spiritual gut check. One of RFK's "wild boys," Kennedy seemed to have settled down and begun following in his father's footsteps in 1982 when he became assistant district attorney in Manhattan. But 18 months later, in September 1983, he was busted in Rapid City, South Dakota, and charged with possessing .2 grams of heroin.

A condition of Kennedy's sentencing was that he complete a treatment program and perform 800 hours of community service. Bobby Jr. re-evaluated his life and decided to devote it to environmentalism. To satisfy his sentence, he became a volunteer attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), even though he didn't know a lick about environmental law.

The Hudson RiverKeepers' case served as Kennedy's crash course. After several lawsuits, the Hudson became the first American waterway reverted to its natural state.

Kennedy—who was such a quick study on environmental law that he's now chief prosecuting attorney for the NRDC and a law professor at Pace University's Environmental Litigation Clinic (which he helped found)—is now president of the WaterKeeper Alliance, which includes 35 Keepers in the U.S. and Canada.

If Garry Brown is to be remembered for nothing else, it should be for bringing a Kennedy to our little bastion of conservatism.

"Orange County's conservative political base has made getting established an uphill struggle," Brown says. "What Orange County has to learn is that clean water, a clean environment, is not a Republican or Democrat issue—it's good business."

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