After the crap he pulled during the summer of 2002, we don't think we even know state Assemblyman Ken Maddox, anymore. That's not a bad thing. See, we were sure the Garden Grove Republican was a dedicated anti-environmentalist. He had year after year of dismal ratings from the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) to prove it. But then Maddox pulled his crap—and that means everybody else in the 22 cities of the Orange County Sanitation District eventually will have their crap pulled, too.
Maddox introduced a bill (Assembly Bill 1969) that would have forced the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) to finally live up to the standards of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act. It would have made it illegal for the OCSD to re-apply for the waiver that enabled it to pour 240 million gallons per day of undertreated sewage—the crap we've been talking about—into the ocean off Huntington and Newport. It would have given the OCSD a strict timetable to comply with the Clean Water Act or face massive daily fines. And unless we had seen Maddox do all this with our own eyes, we never would have believed it.
"Orange County has been getting special treatment for a couple of decades!" ranted Maddox—decked out in a dorky Hawaiian shirt during a press conference at the Huntington Beach pier in May—while a small crowd of environmentalists cheered. "It's time for us to do our part to keep our ocean clean!"
The threat of AB 1969 scared the diddle out of the OCSD Board of Directors, who had been stonewalling such environmental outfits as the Ocean Outfall Group and Surfrider. They railed against Maddox, dispatched general manager Blake Anderson and board chairman Norm Eckenrode to Sacramento to argue against the bill, and hired Huntington Beach assemblyman-turned-$5,000-per-month-lobbyist Scott Baugh to pull strings. Nothing worked. Maddox wouldn't back down.
What the hell was going on? Had Maddox suddenly gone crazy? Or inexplicably sane? "Actually, it was a Weekly story about the sewage that got me started," Maddox explained—as if that explained anything about his sanity. "I couldn't stop wondering whether I'd ever feel safe allowing my little boy to play in the water."
Through it all, however, Maddox cringed at the thought of being labeled an environmentalist. "You don't have to be an environmentalist," he insisted, "to want to keep your kid from swimming in poopy water."
To the contrary, of course, such selfish concerns are exactly what fuels most environmentalism. Maddox acknowledges now that that's exactlywhat infused AB 1969 with its power. "The overwhelming community support for cleaning up our ocean made it much easier, politically, to advance the bill," he says.
And that, Maddox emphasizes, is because of the grassroots leadership of such not-embarrassed-to-be environmentalists as Jan Vandersloot of the Ocean Outfall Group and Garry Brown of Coastkeeper. "They were the leaders on this," Maddox says. "I just followed along with what I could do to persuade people legislatively."
It was the multimillion-dollar economic consequences that were loaded into AB 1969 that persuaded the OCSD board of directors. "I can't help but imagine that there were always board members who opposed the waiver but kept succumbing to peer pressure," Maddox says. "Introducing the economic penalties gave them the excuse to kill the waiver." Still the OCSD vote to comply with the Clean Water Act was less than enthusiastic: 13-12.
Despite his role in improving OC's water quality forever, Maddox would still prefer to avoid the tag of environmentalist. "I'm not particularly comfortable with some of the conceptions that people have of that term," he says. "Besides, I don't think the environmental community would call me an environmentalist."
He's right. Maddox has always scored poorly on the CLCV environmental scorecard, receiving grades of 8, 23 and 20 on their 100-point scale during the previous three years. And in 2002, the CLCV slammed him with his lowest score ever—a 5!